Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #588:

Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34

If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.

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June 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Glimmering Majestic Intensity: the Marc Cary Focus Trio Live 2009

Often the greatest albums take the longest to truly appreciate: this is one of them. Majestic, intense and powerful, the Marc Cary Focus Trio’s latest brilliant album, Live 2009 came out a few months ago. More than anything the jazz pianist has done yet, this one solidifies an already well-deserved reputation as a rugged individualist and synthesizer of global sounds. His relentless lefthand attack evokes McCoy Tyner in places, but Cary’s sound is unique, and it’s deep. He’ll hammer out a low-register groove until the piano is literally reverberating and then let it ring out as he judiciously builds a melody over it. Cary’s style is as rooted in classical music – both western and eastern – as it is in jazz, with a strong sense of history, both musically and in the broader sense of the word. Cary created the Focus Trio for the purpose of cross-pollination: this album continues on that path. To call it revolutionary would not be an overstatement.

They begin with a magisterial, saturnine version of Round Midnight, David Ewell’s hypnotic bass pulse hinting at bossa nova, Cary working an octave for the better part of three minutes against the melody. When he switches to echoey Rhodes electric piano for a second as Sameer Gupta’s drums begin to rumble, the effect is stunning. Cary’s glimmering, Middle Eastern-infused solo builds to a characteristically towering intensity…and then segues into what’s essentially another one-chord jam. Attachment, which also appears in a radically rearranged version on Sameer Gupta’s new Namaskar album, was inspired by a rainy season raga from the classical Indian repertoire. Here, Gupta leads the band in a spot-on, cinematic evocation of a summer storm that grows from a drizzle with lights-along-the-pavement piano and cloudbursting drums. Their version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie #1, aptly titled Twilight, is as rubato as Satie would have wanted, working up to hypnotic insistence out of a long, majestically rumbling crescendo to a dark shuffle groove.

Complete with a sample of Malcolm X discussing revolution, Runnin’ Out of Time vividly and ominously alludes to the price of not revolting via a catchy four-chord hook over a triplet bass pulse. Slow Blues for MLK reveals how amazing Dr. King’s rhythm was: the band play along to a sample of him working a crowd (reminding how revolution isn’t just local, it’s global) literally without missing a beat. A co-write with Bismillah Khan hitches a dark soul melody to Indian ambience; Jackie McLean’s Minor March is reinvented as a bitter, bone-crushing anthem, followed on a more plaintive note by a jagged, wounded version of Abbey Lincoln’s My Love Is You, Cary setting the tone early on by going inside the piano, brushing the strings for an eerie autoharp effect. The rest of the album includes a brisk, scurrying swing cover of the Broadway standard Just in Time, a playful exercise in contrasts between woozy portamento synthesizer and low lefthand piano percussion, and CD Changer, an Abbey Road-style suite featuring an intense, percussive latin vamp, a wary bass solo lowlit by Cary’s glimmering, crushed-glass intensity and finally the playful nudge of an unexpectedly silly synthesizer solo, as if to say, ok, it’s my turn now. Cary’s doing a one-off gig at the Blue Note on 11/22; if jazz is your thing and you’re in New York, you’d be crazy to miss it.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tamir Hendelman’s New Album Packs a Punch

Tamir Hendelman is the pianist in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. His hard-hitting, intense new album Destinations firmly establishes him as a force to be reckoned with as one of this era’s cutting-edge jazz piano stars: Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, Dred Scott and Marc Cary. Like Clayton, he can go deep into the blues; like Scott, he sometimes exhibits a vivid late-Romantic streak, but his style is ultimately his own. Marco Panascia plays bass here, a terse and frequently incisive presence, with the reliably stellar Lewis Nash on drums.

The opening track, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams gets an inspired, no-nonsense, purist bluesy treatment. Passarim, by Antonio Carlos Jobim begins as a tight, spring-loaded ballad that picks up and takes on increasing shades of irony and grit, with some marvelous interplay between insistent bass and piano shadowing it about four minutes in. Fletcher Henderson’s Soft Winds has Hendelman scouting around aggressively for a comfort zone, eventually launching into a purposeful swing on the second verse, with an equally purposeful, to-the-point conversation between Panascia and Nash following. A radical reworking of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin takes on an insistent rippling intensity: the band grab it by its tail and swing it around a little – and then they take it to Brazil. Keith Jarrett’s My Song quickly shifts from its lullaby intro to the tightly wound precision of the second track, a vibe they maintain on their expansively Oscar Peterson-inflected cover of You Stepped Out of a Dream, Panascia getting to cut loose a little and bounce some horn voicings around.

Auspiciously, the two strongest performances here are both originals: the brooding, Brubeck-esque Israeli Waltz, and the haunting, elegaic Babushka, both of which pick up with a clenched-teeth resolve. There’s also a brisk and satisfying version of Bird’s Anthropology; On the Street Where You Live, which takes on not a wee hours vibe but a happy hour swing; Makoto Ozone’s BQE, a well-chosen springboard for both Hendelman’s blues and Romantic sensibilities; and a lyrical version of Fred Hersch’s Valentine, which begs the question of which came first, Paul McCartney’s Blackbird or this? It’s just out on Resonance Records.

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

Pianist Luciano Troja Rediscovers an Important Jazz Composer

This is the kind of album we love best: a rediscovery, a new appreciation of someone who may have slipped under the radar. Sicilian pianist Luciano Troja learned of Earl Zindars (1927-2005) through Bill Evans, who popularized Zindars’ best-known composition, How My Heart Sings, as well as recording and playing many of the Chicago-based composer’s works throughout his career. Troja credits Zindars with being one of the pioneers of using multiple time signatures (in this case, 3/4 and 4/4) in the same piece, something of an overstatement: jazz groups were doing it decades before Dave Brubeck popularized the device. But Zindars has been long overdue for a rediscovery: he was third stream before the term existed. Like Brubeck, he blended impressionistic, sometimes brooding Romantic themes with jazz, utilizing strikingly imagistic melodies that sometimes took on a cinematic sweep. Also recognized within the classical world, his works for orchestra and brass were frequently performed during his lifetime. Troja’s new cd At Home with Zindars isn’t the first Zindars album – pianist Bill Cunliffe did one in 2003 with a sextet, and Zindars himself produced a couple for pianist Don Haas and his trio – but it’s probably the best (Zindars rarely recorded professionally, and it doesn’t appear that he ever released an album of his own). Troja plays solo, with an understatedly cantabile glimmer closely attuned to the nuance and warm emotional immediacy of Zindars’ music. It’s an album of subtleties: as a plus, many of the compositions here have never been previously released.

Many of these songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – are miniatures, possibly designed to offer a comfortable melodic framework for extended improvisation. The casually swinging, Romantically tinged ballad Mother of Earl that opens the album sets the tone for most of the rest of what’s here. The simply titled Nice Place grows majestically out of a memorably Chopinesque architecture; Silverado Trail builds from minimalistic echoes of Debussy to a vivid blue-sky theme. The memorably moody, modally-tinged My Love Is an April Song is the darkest and most overtly jazz-oriented of all the tracks here, followed closely by the wary, apprehensive vignette I Always Think of You. Several others lean in the opposite direction toward pop, most successfully on the blues-infused Four Times Round, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Harold Arlen catalog. Troja’s version of How My Heart Sings gets a rubato treatment that reaches more avidly for the emotional brass ring here than anything else here; Troja’s lone composition here, Earl and Bill so perfectly captures Zindars’ trademark classical/blues blend that it could be Zindars himself. The album closes with its strongest and most intense track, Roses for Annig, which Zindars wrote for his wife shortly before his death. A couple of tracks here lean toward Windham Hill blandness and could have been left out, but all in all, this is an important achievement and a treat for fans of the genial, evocative style that Zindars – and Troja – so successfully mine. The album comes with a very informative, illustrated 44-page booklet in both English and Italian.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bobby Avey Makes an Auspicious Debut

Pianist Bobby Avey’s debut album A New Face instantly elevates him into the ranks of formidable 21st century players like Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, and Marc Cary. Intense, forceful and fearless, Avey has a powerful lefthand like Kenny Barron, a fondness for ominous modal excursions and a vivid sense of melody that hovers between the noir, the Romantics and Olivier Messiaen at his most otherworldly. Along with the other members of his trio, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Pearlson, this album features the always estimable Dave Liebman guesting on soprano and tenor sax on four tracks. The chemistry between players matches the quality of the compositions: if there’s been a better jazz debut album this year, we haven’t heard it.

The opening track, Late November begins with a machine-gun circular motif that Avey eventually leaves to the bass and drums and hovers over with a noirish glimmer – and then takes it down to a minefield of modal incisions on the third verse. Much of this album has a bracing third-stream feel and this is a prime example. Meanwhile, throughout most of the song, Pearlson and Kneeland lock in and hammer with Avey, something they do with considerable relish throughout the album. The second cut, In Retreat is a potently evocative, bitter, brooding ballad, Liebman adding understated grey tones over Avey’s richly melodic crescendos, agitated but completely in control. Kneeland takes it out into the depths with a woundedly syncopated solo. Delusion is a study in understated chromatics and rhythmic shifts, another Kneeland solo early on its quiet highlight. The title track kicks off with a tense, macabre-tinged bass solo which Avey expands eerily – it’s a Sam Fuller film played out in the churchyard at Saint-Sulpice, Liebman playing the role of semi-friendly ghost.

After the stalker intro of Less is Less Than Half, the drums prowl around Avey’s minimalism, building to a crashing McCoy Tyner style lefthand hook that winds up in a hammering, fiery, percussive blaze. By contrast, Influence, a duo piece for piano and tenor, shifts between a golden age late 50s vibe and an uneasily unwinding, ripplingly horizontal piano soundscape. The final cuts here reach genuinely majestic heights. Insight unfolds with Avey hammering on an insistent staccato pedal note, expands to a chromatic vamp that he roams around, eventually a marvelously terse chromatic bass solo, and then it all comes together, glimmering and intense. Likewise, Time Unfolding finally throws restraint to the wind after giving Liebman the chance to rove expansively and then finally plunge into the rhythm section’s staccato syncopation before Avey and then Pearlson take it all the way up. Avey’s ceiling is pretty much as high as he want to go with it. Hope you like traveling, dude.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amina Figarova Makes Her Travels Memorable Ones

“What happens on tour stays on tour,” jazz pianist Amina Figarova asserts, but the fun spills over onto the compositions on her new album Sketches. It’s a striking change, considerably more upbeat than her stunned, intensely evocative 9/11-themed September Suite. A series of vividly cinematic snapshots of her travels around the world, they chronicle moods rather than specific locales – at least as far as the official story goes, anyway. This is obviously a band that has a good time on tour. A sense of optimism and confidence pervades the arrangements here, achieving a remarkably big sound for a sextet, Figarova joined by Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flutes, Jeroen Vierdag on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik on drums. She favors expansive, impressionistic solos and lush horn charts with considerable tempo and dynamic shifts, often creating a narrative. Recorded in a single day, these tableaux capture a well-traveled band at the peak of their creative chemistry.

The opening track, Four Steps to… is an anthem with a vivid sense of anticipation, clever tradeoffs between the trumpet and flute and a sense of calm triumph at the end. By contrast, Unacceptable is perturbed, scurrying along with a breathless Figarova solo that bristles back into the head jaggedly. The title track works a staggered, circular piano riff against characteristically lush horns.

Evocatively wintry but playful, Caribou Crossing opens in late afternoon and ushers in the twilight gently and memorably. An upbeat, catchy ensemble piece, Breakfast for the Elephant has Figarova moving ebulliently out of Hammes’ balmy introspective lines. Back in New Orleans, a slow, swinging ballad, gives Mommaas a chance to flutter in doubletime against the thoughtful legato of the piano. With its Caravan drums, Flight No. captures the scramble to the airport gate, a well-deserved break at cruising altitude and then pandemonium all over again, a theme revisited in the similar Train to Rotterdam. Look at That begins almost as trip-hop, cymbals and bass running a loop, Figarova leading the ensemble brightly and cheerily all the way through. The album winds up with the brisk, bouncily expansive Happy Hour and then the partita In Your Room, beginning as a classically-tinged nocturne with particularly biting piano and flute until the bass brings down the lights. It’s a long album, almost an hour and a quarter worth of music: obviously Figarova’s recent travels have been memorable ones. She and the sextet play Dizzy’s Club on August 9 at 7 and 9:30 PM.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mose Allison at Madison Square Park, NYC 6/30/10

What’s the likelihood of seeing someone this good in a public park, for free? This being New York, we take this kind of show for granted. We shouldn’t. Transcending what must have been an awful monitor mix early on, saloon jazz legend Mose Allison, his bassist and drummer ran through a set of both iconic and more obscure songs from throughout the Sage of Tippo, Mississippi’s career. There was a nonchalance in how the band moved methodically from one song to the next, but there was none in the playing: there was an ever-present sense of defiance in the way Allison punched at his chords, with a judicious bite. Maybe he was venting his frustration of having no piano in the monitor, slamming out a brightly aggressive wash of notes early on that sounded like Stravinsky. Although he would probably laugh at that comparison – Allison has always downplayed his brilliance.

But at 82, he remains a formidable link in a chain of classic Americana that goes back to Robert Johnson and before (the trio played a swinging number written by Johnson’s stepson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, featuring a gleaming, elegantly legato piano solo). His encore was a Willie Dixon number, he told the crowd, but one which went back to Sister Rosetta Tharp. Her version is the spiritual Bound for Glory, redone by Dixon and recorded by Little Walter as My Babe, and now turned into My Brain, which Allison said with characteristic sardonic wit “was losing power, twelve hundred neurons every hour.” Which he can get away with saying because it’s so far from reality. Allison’s voice still has the same sly breeziness that’s been his trademark since the 1950s, and while he stuck mostly to a swinging, chordal attack on the keys, his fingers haven’t lost much of anything either.

And as good as the covers were (especially an unusually stark, rainy-day version of You Are My Sunshine, which Allison took care to note was written by former Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, and an imperturbable version of Percy Mayfield’s You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down), it was the originals that everybody came to hear and which resonated the most. Your Molecular Structure is just as good a come-on as it was ages ago; the cautionary tale In the City echoed a more dangerous time in New York before gentrification that’s on its way back with a vengeance. Your Mind Is on Vacation struck a nerve: playful as the lyrics are, it might be the first great anti-trendoid anthem. “I’m not disillusioned, but I’m getting there,” he sang wryly on a number from his new, Joe Henry-produced album The Way of the World. And Kidding on the Square is still beyond hip, Allison both mocking and embracing the exuberance of its jazzcat (or faux-jazzcat) vernacular.

There are some other worthwhile jazz shows coming up at Madison Square Park: John Ellis and Double Wide at 6 PM on 7/21, and James Carter’s Organ Trio on 8/4 at 7.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Erica Lindsay & Sumi Tonooka – Initiation

Recorded back in 2004, this is a brand-new release on the cusp of becoming a welcome rediscovery. A quartet jazz session featuring compositions by tenor saxophonist/Bard College professor Erica Lindsay and pianist Sumi Tonooka along with an absolutely killer rhythm section of Rufus Reid on bass and Bob Braye on drums, most of this dexterously walks the line between purism and accessibility. Lindsay plays with a confident, smoky tone and a keen sense of melody; likewise, Tonooka’s style is comfortably bluesy and assured. Reid is his usual fluid, smartly melodic self and Braye – who sadly did not live to see this album released – turns in a powerful, memorable performance. If this was his swan song, he picked a hell of a note to go out on, whether getting the cymbals shimmering on a turnaround or elevating the third track above the level of So What homage with an aggressive, fullscale, Elvin Jones-style charge.

The opening track, Mari is a catchy, hook-based swing number; Lindsay evokes Joe Henderson with her casually tuneful, wee hours vibe reasserted by Sunooka and then Reid, cleverly foreshadowing Lindsay’s return from the bar. Mingus Mood, a thoughtful ballad, is less Mingus than Grover Washington Jr. (don’t laugh!!!) in purist mode, i.e. circa All My Tomorrows, almost minimalist as Lindsay and then Reid carry the tune over Tonooka’s tersely precise chords.The title track playful shifts from tricky, winking intro to a casual Lindsay solo that she builds smartly and casually around a series of rapidfire clusters; Tonooka deftly works her solo rhythmically with latin flourishes. The somewhat hypnotic Serpent’s Tail plays an understated rhumba rhythm off a repetitive Reid riff that both sax and piano use as a springboard for expansively tasteful excursions.

The late 50s riff-driven swing vibe returns pleasantly with In the Void, followed by the ballad Somewhere Near Heaven which powerfully contrasts brooding, sometimes ominous, Bill Mays-ish piano with pensively optimistic sax. Black Urgency shuffles with a tunefulness and sense of direction worthy of JD Allen and features Braye at his most counterintuitive and incisive. The album closes with arguably its strongest (and most rhythmically challenging) number, simply titled Yes, Lindsay and then Tonooka at their most forceful and memorable, whether pulsing on the beat or swirling with rivulets of glissandos. There’s a lot to enjoy here, more than an hour’s worth of tunes.

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

Concert Review: The Dred Scott Trio with Strings at Smalls Jazz Club, NYC 6/10/09

Jazz with strings – what a great trend this could be! Guitarist Gene Bertoncini turned in a lushly beautiful set with a string quartet at the Jazz Standard back in March and this was even better. The Dred Scott Trio’s weekly Tuesday midnight residency at Rockwood Music Hall is now over four years old, at the point where legendary status starts to creep in, and this show in the more spacious, comfortable downstairs confines of Smalls reaffirmed that eventuality. Scott’s a fast, sometimes pyrotechnic pianist in the Kenny Barron mode, but more playful and stylistically diverse, as adept at ballads as he is barrelling along at full throttle. There’s a fearlessness and a completely out-of-the-box sensibility in his playing and his writing that ultimately goes back to punk rock. This show was typical in that Scott, bassist Ben Rubin and drummer Tony Mason, lushly augmented by an all-female string quartet, aired out pretty much every weapon in the arsenal.

They opened with a swinging original, Apropos of Nothing, vividly lyrical strings doubling the intro’s syncopated hook, then accentuating the end with a fast, staccato eight note passage. Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a genial, pretty straight-up bluesy number vastly benefited from the sweep of the strings. Scott had named another original Mojo Rhythm after a friend’s kid of the same name (you have to wonder about guys like that), a striking, intensely rhythmic number with Mason kicking up rolling thunder, Scott swaying and stomping through the opening melody, Rubin bringing in the crescendo on the chorus as the strings ably doubled it. And then Scott and Rubin yelled “Fuck you!” in unison. It was the only lyric of the set. An unsettling violin solo appeared amidst the pandemonium but without amplification, was pretty much lost in the melee.The cheesy eighties hit Let’s Get Physical was redone as a bossa tune with some tastefully incisive fills by Scott, ironically the evening’s least physical number.

Best song of the night was Bobo, the nickname for a California town Scott had spent some time in as a kid, a plaintive, Dave Brubeck-esque jazz waltz lit up by an absolutely gorgeous eight-chord head that screamed out to be brought back, again and again. And finally, it was. Scott then brought up longtime co-conspirator Carol Lipnik (whose show at the Delancey earlier this spring had to have been one of the year’s most transcendent live moments so far) for vocals on a cover of Brian Eno’s By This River. Warmly and inclusively, backed only by Scott’s piano, the occasional minimalist bass note or cymbal touch, her vocalese took the crowd way out to a different place (she’s going to Yaddo in a couple of weeks – maybe that had something to do with it). The band wrapped up the set with a scurrying, somewhat apprehensive tableau taken way up by a Scott solo, furiously and intricately working vast permutations of a walk down the major scale. If you haven’t seen this band yet, they’re at the Rockwood every Tuesday – you have no excuse.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment