Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

Advertisements

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Komeda Project at the Polish/Slavic Center, Brooklyn NY 4/8/10

Polish jazz composer/pianist Krzysztof Komeda is best remembered for the score to Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski would use his music in several films) and the 1965 cult classic album Astigmatic. The Komeda Project dedicate themselves to keeping his music alive; their Requiem album was simply one of the best albums in any genre released last year. Thursday night at the spacious converted church housing the Polish/Slavic Center in Greenpoint, the Komeda Project – this particular version featuring pianist Andrzej Winnicki, sax player Krzysztof Medyna, trumpeter Russ Johnson and an inspired, absolutely spot-on pickup rhythm section of Drew Gress on bass and Rudy Royston on drums – played a show that was as hauntingly nuanced as the album.

Komeda’s most obvious influence was vintage, small-combo Miles Davis, and Winnicki did an evocatively plaintive evocation of Wynton Kelly with his subtle shades of grey. Not all of Komeda’s work is anguished and haunting, but that mood dominated throughout the group’s hourlong set. Winnicki deftly let the composer’s brooding, stygian chordal intensity speak for itself, fueling the smoldering pyre that was the long partita Day-Time, Nighttime Requiem. Relentless and energetic, Medyna fired off one blazing flurry after another, arpeggios and caterpillaring clusters around Komeda’s many moody modal centers; Johnson got as many plum assignments as the piano and made the most of them with a tone that wandered from full-out mournful to watchful and wary. Gress got all of one solo passage all night but made the most of it, tersely yet animatedly. From the first few rumbles on the toms, it was going to be interesting to see how Royston, one of the most powerful and intense drummers on the planet, was going to handle it, but he felt the room – the rumble never reached the usual roar that he can so memorably deliver in situations that allow it. Instead, he and Gress would bounce around the occasional riff once or twice when there was room to squeeze one in, notably during a pulsing, spring-loaded version of one of Komeda’s hotter numbers, Crazy Girl.

Riveting as the Komeda compositions were, the most impressive moment of the show was an original by Winnicki that slyly cached some deliciously dark Balkan tonalities within a deceptively comfortable, bluesy architecture, Medyna delivering his solo on soprano sax with such fluidity that he could have been playing clarinet. It maintained the mood marvelously, a perfect if perhaps unlikely alloy of old world angst and new world indomitability.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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