Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #693:

Paul Whiteman – Greatest Hits 1920-27

The jazz snobs are gonna kill us for this one. Ninety years after the fact, Paul Whiteman is still paying for the hubris of calling himself the King of Jazz in an era when Jelly Roll Morton was hot and Duke Ellington was coming up. Almost a century later, it doesn’t even seem that anybody wants to download his stuff. Which is too bad. His shtick was lushly ecstatic, lavish orchestrations of the hits of the day. In the 1920s, there were thousands of hot jazz bands working regional circuits all over the country – in fact, outside of the US as well – but nobody with the juice that Whiteman had, nor as much access to the new phenomenon of radio. Whatever you think of his arrangements, you can’t fault his taste: he was the first to have a hit with Rhapsody in Blue. This popular 1950s vinyl reissue – still kicking around used record stores – collects a lot but not all of the big hits, extending as far as 1932 (the album title actually gets it wrong). Can you argue with Paul Robeson doing Old Man River? Bix Beiderbecke on cornet on Ramona? The irresistibly towering grandeur that the band gives catchy pop songs like Japanese Sandman, Whiteman’s signature song Whispering, or My Blue Heaven? There’s also cinematic stuff like Valencia, Birth of the Blues and Song of India as well as comedic but still charming material including the cartoonish I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and the Three O’Clock in the Morning Waltz among the almost two dozen tracks here. A rigorous search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything – if we find something more interesting than an anthology, we’ll put it up here.

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March 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hottest New Big Band in NYC

The Ayn Sof Orchestra and Bigger Band are the most exciting new development in big band jazz in New York. To call them the “Jewish big band” is to say that they play large ensemble jazz works liberally sprinkled with themes and motifs from Jewish music. Some of the compositions are jazz arrangements of folk songs; their originals, contributed by several members of the ensemble, draw sometimes deeply, sometimes loosely on klezmer or Middle Eastern melodies. The group, a mix of some of the most highly sought-after jazz talents in the city, has been playing together for about a year, with a monthly residency at bandleader/tenor sax player Greg Wall’s Sixth Street Synagogue. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Cell Theatre in the West Village was a revelation.

They opened with a lush, sweeping, bracingly layered number by former Lou Reed tenor player Marty Fogel, a showcase for a slinky, klezmer-tinged solo from trumpeter Frank London and a bit later a no-nonsense one from trombonist Reut Regev. A composition by guitarist Eyal Maoz was a characteristically surfy sprint, complete with his own joyously showy, increasingly unhinged solo and some effect-laden, shuffling B3 organ groove work from Uri Sharlin (who’d switched from piano, and would later move to accordion). Wall sardonically announced that someone in the crowd had promised their grandmother some klezmer, so they blasted through a towering, majestic Fogel arrangement of the traditional Kiever Bulgar dance, more jazz than klezmer, with long, expressive trombone and accordion solos and a tricky false ending. A tune by alto player Paul Shapiro worked a bouncy soul organ groove that took on a latin vibe as it motored along. Another Fogel original introduced the night’s most darkly bracing tonalities, a 6/4 stomp featuring a blazing Balkan solo by trumpeter Jordan Hirsch; trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Intrigue in the Night Market was downright sexy, her own slyly cosmopolitan solo growing more rootless, the band restlessly and suspensefully rising to a big crescendo out of it.

The second half of the concert began with jazz poetry on Talmudic themes, Wall or London offering energetic accompaniment for a series of animated spoken-word interludes, sometimes playing in tandem. The whole band joined in as they went along; some were wryly humorous, but ultimately they preached to the choir, if as heatedly as that hardcore punk band who celebrate the virtues of learning Torah. The band eventually wound up the show on a blissfully carnivalesque note with a humor-laden latin soul groove featuring an uninhibitedly buffoonish Maoz solo, a similarly amusing, blippy one from Sharlin on organ and a typical monster crescendo from London, who’d been doing them all night whenever the moment appeared. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo – Zakopane

Satoko Fujii is one of those people who seems to record everything she plays – in her case, that’s a good thing. Methodically if not particularly calmly, Fujii has become over the past 25 years simply one of the most important composers of our time: she gives new meaning to the term “panstylistic.” Her own Libra Records imprint has most recently released Gato Libre’s delicious new gypsy-jazz concoction; a surprisingly tuneful if crazily noisy one from her free jazz outfit First Meeting; a typically vivid one by her small combo Ma-Do, and this album by her colossal fifteen-piece Orchestra Tokyo. She first made a big-band splash with her Orchestra New York back in the late 90s: this effort finds her similarly out-of-the-box but considerably different, Kelly Churko’s evil, chicken-scratch guitar skronk frequently adding a snarlingly jarring undercurrent very evocative of Arto Lindsay back in his DNA days. Fujii loves paradoxes and studies in contrasts: as usual, there are plenty of them here, some of them very funny. This ensemble is piano-less, Fujii working exclusively as conductor.

The cd opens with variations on a big bluesy rock riff with boisterous solos from Takao Watanabe’s trumpet and Hakuregumo Nagamatsu’s trombone. The characteristically paradoxical Desert Ship runs a lush, pensively cinematic minor key theme, husband and longtime collaborator Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet a barely caged elephant plotting a quick getaway – and then they’re off on the wings of Sachi Hayasaka’s completely unhinged soprano sax. The third track, Zee, sets gritty, trebly noise-guitar beneath lush, swaying orchestration into a woozy yet disturbed Toshihiro Koike trombone solo. The amusing early morning barnyard ambience of Sakura builds to a rubato, overcast early summer atmosphere, individual voices filtering in and out.

Tropical Fish is even funnier, Ryuichi Yoshida’s baritone sax sprawling and content until the food enters the tank, Koike following in the same vein – and then the rest of the fishes join in a tango that goes from stately to Mingus-esque noir to Jerry Goldsmith cartoonish. The title track works contrasts: a spacious bowed bass intro by Toshiki Nagata against a couple of blasts from the orchestra, then some Bill Frisell-on-mushrooms guitar from Churko that doesn’t take long to go completely unhinged and noisy against big, suspenseful orchestration. The most suspenseful cut here, actually is Trout, a rousing detective theme that’s actually a tribute to a good meal – it must have smelled really good in the kitchen! – Kunihiro Izumi adding a deliciously Middle Eastern alto solo worthy of Lefteris Bournias. They end on a boisterously satirical note, the horns taking a sentimental theme completely over the top with weepy vibrato. As with Fujii’s 2006 live album with her New York orchestra, this one’s going to end up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of this year. New York audiences may not get a chance to see this band, so this album may be as close as you ever come. Fujii, however, gets around (she used to be here a lot more than she is now); watch this space for NYC dates.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Art-I-Facts: Great Performances from 40 Years of Jazz at NEC

One can only imagine how many treasures might be kicking around in the New England Conservatory’s archive, especially if this new compilation album is any indication. It’s a collection of concert recordings from the forty years since jazz became a standard part of their curriculum. The artists here, all either NEC faculty or alumni, make a formidable allstar cast.

There are two tracks here that stand out as absolutely extraordinary. The first, from 1976, is the hypnotic, otherworldly beautiful Zeibekiko, a confluence of two traditional Greek dance tunes with Rebekah Zak’s piano moving methodically out of just-over-the-horizon starlight into blazing midnight sky, Joe Maneri’s clarinet streaking out of it, then descending with a casual grace. The other is an exquisitely indomitable take of India by Coltrane with George Garzone on tenor, John Lockwood on bass and Bob Moses on drums. Moses’ own composition Reverence is included here, a dizzying, towering 2006 performance by the NEC Jazz Orchestra. From behind the valves of his trombone, Bob Brookmeyer leads the the Jazz Orchestra through a warmly soulful 2005 version of his nocturne, Cameo. That group is also featured on a joyously expansive 2003 version of Jaki Byard’s big, anthemic Aluminum Baby, counterintuitively showcasing the rhythm section.

A 1990 recording of George Russell’s All About Rosie suite by the NEC Big Band opens in a swirling blaze of circularity, followed by a triumphant slow swing blues and a ferocious final movement with a long, suspenseful solo from the bass and an all-too-short, reverb-drenched one by the guitarist (soloists on this one are unfortunately not cited in the liner notes). Guitarist Jimmy Guiffre alternates Bill Frisell-ish tinges of delta blues, funk and country in a trio performance of his composition The Train and the River. Also included here are solo versions of Monk tunes by Byard, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Ran Blake. The only miss is an easy-listening FM pop ditty stuck right in the middle of the cd which really has no business being here or anywhere else.

Another quibble, and perhaps an unavoidable one – most likely because so much of this material had to be remastered from the original analog tapes – is that the recording levels vary from track to track, a problem that disappears if you adjust the sequence. Fittingly, the NEC is releasing this album to coincide with their 40th anniversary series of concerts around New York from March 20 through 27 (the complete list of shows is here). Now it’s time for Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music to open up their vaults and follow suit.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Making Love to the Dark Ages

Believe it or not, this is the tenth album by sprawling avant-jazz megaplex Burnt Sugar. Conceived in 1999 by former Village Voice critic and author Greg Tate as a continuation of what Miles Davis was doing circa Bitches Brew – although they’re a lot closer to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or some of Sun Ra’s deeper-space explorations – Burnt Sugar quickly earned a following both for their epic, atmospheric live performances, and because there were so many people in the band. The full contingent numbers over fifty, including bass star Jared Nickerson (a Tammy Faye Starlite alum), noted jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and baritone sax goddess Paula Henderson of Moisturizer (who also leads a miniature version of the band playfully called Moist Sugar). While the Arkestra Chamber is also a smaller version of the group, the soundscapes on this album are no less vast for the contributions of a couple dozen fewer players. Because of the band’s deliberately improvisatory nature, don’t expect to be able to hear any of the songs on the cd in concert: this is simply the group on a good night when everybody was feeling what they were. Which was good, and always seems to be the case – this cd is nothing if not fun.

With so many people in the band, how do they hold it together? Typically, by throwing chord changes out the window. In place of traditional Western melodic tropes, the band substitutes innumerable dynamic shifts, subtle variations in tempo, parts rising and slowly sinking out of a massive wash of sound. The effect is supremely psychedelic, even trance-inducing. Most of the tracks segue into each other: to go so far as giving them each a name is a bit of a stretch. The opening cut Chains and Water is a long, three-part suite, a typical one-chord jam spiced early on with sax and blues harp solos and an infrequent vocal. The production goes dubwise at the end, whistles and other various disembodied textures floating through the mix, horn charts rising and falling. Part two gets all chaotic, swirling around a repetitive syncopated single-note riff by the massive horn section, finally brought out of the morass on the wings of a nasty, darkly bluesy guitar solo and finally, the hint of a hook, a four-note descending bassline.

Thorazine/Eighty One fades up, anything but a downer layered over a dark, circular bass motif, eventually slowing way down to a long coda, then building skeletal from there with screechy sax and everybody nonchalantly floundering around. Love to Tical is a boisterous funk jam, predictably crescendoing to a searing, spacy guitar solo, then to soprano sax, a chorus of women chanting “feel, feel, feel” distant in the background. From there they segue into Dominata, which gets considerably quieter, layers of cloudy horns over tinkly piano with a bass blip or two.

But just when you think that’s all there is to this group, they hit you upside the head with the fiery title track in all its searing, violin-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected majesty. Like the rest of the tracks here, it’s an epic and it’s worth your investment as the suite morphs into raw, noir trip-hop menace and then into buoyant loungey atmospherics. A smartly chosen number to end a good late-night headphone album on a high note.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment