Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Jeff Hamilton Trio – Symbiosis

[editor’s note – it’s just this poor guy’s luck that we decided to bring back Good Cop and Bad Cop after almost a year’s hiatus to review this one…]

Bad Cop: Let’s see, the Jeff Hamilton Trio has an album of familiar jazz standards. JUST what we need!

Good Cop: This puts an interesting spin on it, a drummer-led piano trio.

Bad Cop [sarcastic]: All covers except for one original, that’s a good start. Let’s hear that one first.

Good Cop: Here you go – it’s a samba.

Bad Cop: Sounds pretty generic to me. Eighteen hours setting up all those mics for a 25 second percussion solo. Now that’s what I call efficient…

Good Cop: Samba is like blues, it’s a stylized genre, a lot of the changes follow a specific pattern…

Bad Cop [peeved]: PFFFFT. What’s next? Let’s try the title track. I don’t know this one – by some European guy, Claus Ogerman?

Good Cop: He’s an arranger and composer, he worked with Tom Jobim and lately Diana Krall.

Bad Cop [the sarcasm is getting out of hand] : Now that’s really got me excited. Hmmm…this is actually quite beautiful. Nice cantabile ballad. Now why don’t I know this guy? And who’s the piano player?

Good Cop: Maybe because you’re not a Diana Krall fan? The piano player is Tamir Hendelman, he plays with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. As does the drummer, Jeff Hamilton.

Bad Cop: Who’s the bass player? Sounds like John Clayton, got a nice groove going.

Good Cop: That’s Christoph Luty.

Bad Cop: OK. Let’s hear the rest of this thing. Track one please.

Good Cop: This is You Make Me Feel So Young. Nice exuberant, bright, lyrical piano, huh?

Bad Cop: OK, you got me there. What’s next?

Good Cop: This is Midnight Sun. Lionel Hampton tune.

Bad Cop: Interesting how the drums stay on the DL til the second verse kicks in. Grace and suspense.

Good Cop: Hamilton was in Hamp’s band in 1975, I guess that left a mark.

Bad Cop: I should say so. Let’s hear the next cut…oh yeah, the title track, we already heard that. Fast forward, what’s next?

Good Cop: Gershwin. Fascinating Rhythm. Not exactly the Moonlighters’ version…

Bad Cop: Gotta give these guys credit, they’ve really made this their own, how they skirt the melody with all those drum breaks, that’s cool. I like that piano solo too.

Good Cop: And the way that little drum solo toward the end winds up with a press roll back to the head…

Bad Cop: You know, I am actually starting to like this, believe it or not. OK, for awhile anyway. This is a Ray Brown tune, Blues for Junior, nice swing to it but it doesn’t have much in the way of a real melody…

Good Cop: OK, here’s the next one. Polka Dots and Moonbeams. You know this one.

Bad Cop [aside] And how. Doesn’t sound much like it – I like the bowed bass on the intro…and the piano, this guy really makes it sing.

Good Cop: What’s with the role reversal? You’re supposed to be cynical, jaded, embittered, the one who’s seen it all, heard it all.

Bad Cop: But I don’t hate this, that’s the strange thing. Oh yeah, here comes that samba. No thanks.

Good Cop: Can we please resume roles, you’re stealing my thunder. This one’s Blues in the Night.

Bad Cop: Harold Arlen. For the gazillionth time. But listen, the bass is playing a horn line. Bowing it! It’s good, too!

Good Cop: And check how Hendelman climbs out of that solo, big and glittery.

Bad Cop: Where’s the drummer here? He’s almost invisible.

Good Cop: Gotcha!

Bad Cop: Um. OK. Yeah, got me. You’re not supposed to notice the drums, DUH. Oh wait, we finally get some big cymbal splashes to up the ambience. You know, I should put this on my boudoir mix along with Sade and Al Green.

[Good Cop stifles a laugh]

Bad Cop: No, seriously.

Good Cop: Why don’t we wrap up this cd instead. This is the last cut. Ellington tune, The Serpent’s Tooth.

Bad Cop: I don’t know this one. Who was it that said that it never hurts to cover Ellington a few times?

Good Cop: That was Graham Dechter, I believe. Hamilton’s bandmate in the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra.

Bad Cop: I wouldn’t touch Ellington with a ten foot pole. Unless I was Steely Dan. One screwup and you make a real fool of yourself.

Good Cop: Well, let’s see how these guys do. Messing with the tempo and having a ball, seems to me.

Bad Cop: Tasteful bass solo. Drum breaks. A showcase for the rhythm section. Which is pretty much what this is when you think about it, in the oldschool sense of the word. Except the piano here is the lead instrument. And I want to learn more about this guy, does he have anything else out?

Good Cop:Yeah, he’s on Capri along with the other guys here.

Bad Cop: Can you do me a favor and get me a comp copy?

Good Cop: Back in character, I see. Always looking to get over. Why don’t you just buy the damn thing?

Bad Cop: Why is it you get all the good cds?

Good Cop: Start being less of a peevish ass and you might get one or two. Woops, that’s me being cynical.

Bad Cop: Touche!

Good Cop. OK, it says in the press material that All About Jazz raved about this and I have to say that they were right this time around.

Bad Cop: Usually that’s the kiss of death.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Better them than us!

[editor’s note: Symbiosis came out on Capri Records in September, available at their site, at shows and at better record retailers who are aware that jazz exists]

December 16, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Frank Potenza Trio – Old New Borrowed and Blue

The first thing that hits you when you hear this cd is that it sounds an awful lot like Joe Pass. Which is no surprise, considering that guitarist Frank Potenza is a protege of the late, great jazz player. This new album has an evocatively retro, early 60s feel, enhanced by the arrangements and the ensemble behind Potenza: Joe Bagg on Hammond organ, Steve Barnes on drums and Holly Hoffmann guesting on flute on several cuts. Most of the tracks here blend warm introspection with a carefree, smoky late-night vibe. They kick it off with Jimmy Smith’s Ready and Able, Bagg’s solo followed by one by Potenza showing off an effortlessly purist, subtly Pass-like approach to fast eight-note runs. I’m Walkin could have been a trainwreck (a vocal cover of a Brother Ray tune? Get real!) but it works because Potenza reinvents it, taking what was originally one step removed from Louis Jordan and transforming it into a smoothly swinging shuffle with a round, bluesy tone while maintaining Charles’ knowing certainty. Lee Morgan’s Party Time keeps the swing vibe intact, Potenza as sparing and incisive as before. Wes Montgomery’s Road Song/OGD adds a welcome edge of uncautiousness under the blue-sky fluidity of the melody.

The ballad A Weaver of Dreams has Hoffmann adding dark shades that may come as some surprise until you realize that’s her typical approach, with more of a reed player’s sense of texture and forcefulness. Star Eyes, popularized by Sarah Vaughan and countless others is understatedly catchy and winsome. Interestingly, the best track here is the lone Potenza original, Jacaranda, a straight-up groove number moving from almost hypnotic organ to expansive, purposeful guitar bluesiness.  

Not everything here works; I Wanna Be Loved only really makes sense if a chanteuse or a soul belter sings it and Potenza is neither. Of the two covers of schlocky pop songs here, they take Ode to Billie Joe up a notch but not enough to make it worth the effort; ironically, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, as odious as the original is, is redeemed by a very smart major-to-minor change that Potenza introduces on the chorus, giving it some striking gravitas (and he had the sense not to sing this one). If there’s any criticism of Potenza’s playing, it’s that it’s so close to Pass, so purist and so tasteful, no wasted notes anywhere – it would be interesting to see what indelibly personal touch he might add. Or maybe this is just how he likes to play – if so, that’s a good thing. Potenza is head of the jazz guitar school at USC: southern California readers are encouraged to go see him live.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The JD Allen Trio at Puppets Jazz Bar, Brooklyn NY 6/25/09

Seemingly a low-key warmup gig for the JD Allen Trio’s upcoming weeklong stand at the Vanguard this coming August 11-16, they were practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing together again after a break of almost a month. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions and sense of melody are so strong that he doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and he wasn’t. Allen has concretized his style: he’s exactly the same as a bandleader and composer as he is a sideman, always finding the melody, always finding the most elegant, terse way to make his point – and his songs all make one, often very vividly. This group works perfectly as a trio because there isn’t room for anybody else, the rhythm section being as ferocious as it is. Allen’s articulacy as a player matches his writing. He spent the duration of the set tossing off crystalline eighth-note runs and edgily precise, minor-key motifs loaded with implied melody while the rhythm section ran amok. Rudy Royston has to be the most exciting drummer in jazz right now (no disrespect to any of the other good ones, you know who you are, we’ll be reviewing one of you next week). Puppets is a small room, and Royston felt it, leaving the intensity  just a notch below pain level. Where Allen speaks in phrases, Royston speaks in chapters – but they’re meaningful chapters, and bassist Gregg August seemed only too glad to jump in and go along for what became a wild ride from the first few rolls across the toms. August is also a first-rate composer with an ear for a memorable narrative, which makes him a particularly good fit for Allen, but this time out it didn’t take long before he went unhinged in tandem with Royston while Allen struck a striking stance in the unlikely role as melodic leader also charged with carrying the rhythm and organizing the songs’ architecture. Backwards, no doubt, but that’s part of what made the show so fascinating to watch.

The trio mixed songs from their two brilliant albums, last year’s I Am I Am and the just-released, equally melodic Shine! On the records, most of them are brief, barely four minutes long, but the group elongated  their shadows so they almost disappeared and then spun back in a split second, looming large and ominous. I Am I Am is a theme and variations, and Allen worked its impatient, angry insistence for all it was worth, using the central hook as an anchor to keep the low-register rumble from lurching and destroying everything in its path. Royston didn’t steal the show – he was the show, introducing not one but two unexpected, instant crescendos with press rolls. He worked his snare not with a snap but a boom, at one point during a solo building a defiant nine-note phrase artfully as a horn line. August has a great feel for latin rhythms, which in tandem with Royston’s reckless yet judicious rides across the cymbal heads added luminosity to some of the growlier I Am I Am passages. At the end, they swung, August running scales madly while Royston careened through the underbrush, Allen to the side, surgically incisive – and then bringing his cohorts back up and onto the road with similar precision. If jazz is your thing, you’re out of your mind if you’re in town and you don’t catch these guys while they’re at the Vanguard this August.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

There is no other composer in any other genre who is so completely on top of his game as tenor sax player JD Allen is right now, and thankfully he had the foresight to get back into the studio while he’s hot. This new one proves that last year’s release, the darkly majestic I Am I Am – a bonafide modern day jazz classic – was no fluke. “The music told me that it wanted to be called Shine,” he recently told WBGO’s Josh Jackson with a wink. “I feel very shiny when I wake up in the morning…a nice quarter that I might find, a nickel or two. Shine is good.” In a sense, the new album is an extension of the terse, four-minute “jukebox jazz” style the group mined so richly as a suite on the previous cd, here adding a somewhat more vintage, exploratory Pharaoh Sanders edge. The trio feel remains the same, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston an integral part of the compositions rather than merely supplementary pieces (in a spectacular moment of triumph for Royston, drums very frequently serve as the lead instrument here). As before, melody remains absolutely front and center – if anything, the songs here may be even catchier, if not as dark. Allen’s stock in trade as a sideman has always been an ironclad, logically terse no-nonsense attack and that’s in full effect here. This is jazz for humming to yourself coming up out of the subway to the street where it’s a lot cooler.

The cd opens with Esre, echoes of the central theme from I Am I Am, Royston kicking it off with a flurry of drums, Allen entering minimalistically yet with a surprising amount of squall. Sonhouse takes an opentuned delta blues guitar riff and soars with it over an understated funk bassline and Royston’s Niagara Falls cascades. On Conjuration of Angles, Allen serves as the the anchor, calm and assured whether gentle and stately or, later on, playfully breezy as Royston colors it wildly with a little help from a bitterly brief hint of a solo by August.

Marco has something of a signature sound for Allen, variations on an apprehensively circular theme.The title track is a surprisingly gentle, reassuring ballad, almost a lullaby, Royston rattling around with heightened expectations, threatening to spontaneously combust, but he never does. The rhythm section remains on the prowl on The Laughing Bell while Allen provides buoyant contrast: as with so many of the tracks on I Am I Am, it’s a masterpiece of matching timbre to emotion. East Boogie follows, Allen morphing an old Ornette Coleman theme into a gorgeously warm piano voicing over a comfortably syncopated stomp. A cleverly echoey rumble, Ephraim has August playing off Allen and then Royston. There’s also a cozy, trad swing blues with a terse bass solo, both Allen and Royston jumping out of their shoes on Teo, and a boisterously wary final tune simple titled Variations. And the next-to-last track, Se’Lah has the rapturous, spiritual-infused feel of a jazz classic.

The trio have some low-key shows coming up: in Brooklyn at Puppets Jazz Bar on 6/25 at 9 and at the Stone on 7/21 at 8 followed by a big six-night stand at the Vanguard starting on 8/11. If you wish you’d been around back in the day when Bird and Trane were kicking up dust, remember this era has its own great ones too: you might want to catch more than one of these shows.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment