Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Billy Bang and Bill Cole Improvise Raw Adrenaline

The new Billy Bang Bill Cole album makes a good segue with Dollshot, just reviewed here. Recorded live in concert at the University of Virginia in 2009, it’s a series of duo pieces and improvisations between the iconic jazz violinist and the pioneering reedman. It’s not the most accessible album ever made – it’s intense, sometimes apprehensive, even abrasive – but for fans of a good jam, it’s pure bliss.

The concert kicks off with an improvisation, a study in low/high contrasts: Cole holds down a drone with his digeridoo while Bang moves slowly, judiciously and hauntingly against the murky wash of sound. Eventually, overtones begin to waft up from the depths, violin swooping warily, Cole eventually taking it down as low as he can. The audience is stunned. The next tune, Shades of the Kia Mia, is a variation on an earlier Bang composition from his acclaimed Vietnam: The Aftermath album. Playing the midrange Indian nagaswarm flute, Cole rises and falls like a siren underneath Bang’s Asian-tinged blues phrases. The violin crescendos to a brief explosion of white noise, then circles down nimbly; the duo wrap it up slowly with a long series of morose, conversational phrases. It packs a punch.

Cole plays supersonically wild, Balkan-tinged doublestops on sona on his composition Poverty is the Father of Fear, a vivid portrayal that moves quickly from a surprisingly triumphant march figure to a crazed sense of desperation, the musicians exchanging roles, by turns calmly rhythmic and completely unhinged. They follow Cole’s pyrotechnics with a repetitive violin hook, a trick ending and a graceful wind down to where the piece began. The next improvisation starts as a ghostly march; Bang holds down the rhythm while Cole runs a circular phrase on his flute and then hopscotches over Bang’s long, sustained pedal note.

Jupiter’s Future, another Bang composition, is a thinly disguised funk song with tasty, bluesy violin and a blistering climb to the uppermost registers led by Cole that kicks off even more frenzied riffage. They close with a final, intense improvisation, Cole imploring, Bang refusing to let up. For anyone who likes powerful, adrenalizing music and isn’t scared off by a lot of upper midrange, this is a treat – you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2011 list at year’s end.

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March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Howes Puts a Bluesy Spin on Violin Jazz

Calling your new album Out of the Blue, especially if you’re a string player, is pretty much akin to calling it A Love Supreme if you play sax. But no matter: jazz violinist Christian Howes plays it with an admirably purist sensibility, other than the occasions when he really digs in and delivers what sounds like a distorted guitar solo. And he does it with his own signature, melodic style. Jazz violinists inevitably get compared to either Stephane Grappelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, and to his credit Howes seldom sounds much like either one. You have to go back in time for guys like Stuff Smith, a bluesman, a style Howes reaches for more frequently than not here. The band behind him includes Robben Ford on guitars, Bobby Floyd (who wrote Knock on Wood) on organ and piano, Tamir Hendelman taking over on piano on several tracks, bass duties split between Kevin Axt on upright bass and Ric Fierabracci on bass guitar, with Joel Rosenblatt on drums.

The opening track, Fingerprints, is Wayne Shorter’s Footprints (via Chick Corea), moving from propulsive funk to astringently sweeping swing and a rippling Hendelman piano solo, Ford maintaining the vibe marvelously. A swinging version of Fats Domino’s I’m Walking is the one place where Grappelli comes to mind, Floyd going deep into the blues, Ford shifting from incisive to spiraling, with a soaring solo out. And was that a Hank Williams quote? Horace Silver’s Cape Verdean Blues emphasizes sway, syncopation, and straight-up bluesiness, Howes building to a graceful spiral down and deep into the shadows after Hendelman’s graceful cascades. Nicking a phrase from the Sister Sledge kitschfest Tell Me Something Good, Gumbo Klomp works a funk vamp, the Crusaders as done with violin, Ford reminding of his early glory days with Jimmy Witherspoon. The title track, a Jeff Lynne classic (just kidding – it’s an original) is warmly gospel-flavored, a feast of shifting textures, Rosenblatt playfully impatient and bustling underneath.

Sharon Hendrix guests on vocals on the torchy soul/blues Seek and Ye Shall Find. A shuffling, fusiony funk groove, Bobby’s Bad is a vehicle for some colorful Floyd work and a metallic solo out by Howes. Hendelman and then Ford turn a purist version of Sing Me Softly of the Blues over to Howes, who scurries and then shoots it across the bar to Floyd, who’s only too glad to join the fun. They wind up the album with the rhythmically tricky When Will the Blues Leave and a minimalistic, distantly ragtime piano-and-violin duo version of Sweet Lorraine. Blues fans may enjoy this as much as the jazz crowd. It’s out now on Resonance.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment