Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Gorgeous, New York-Centric Album and a Drom Show From Bassist Manel Fortià

There haven’t been a lot of jazz triplebills in New York this year, unless you count the option of spending from early evening to the wee hours at Smalls. A much more briskly paced, enticing jazz triplebill is happening this May 21 at 6:30 PM at Drom, where the duo of Greek vibraphonist Christos Rafalides and pianist Giovanni Mirabassi open the night, followed by ubiquitously tuneful Spanish bassist Manel Fortia and his band and then poignant, captivating Greek singer Eleni Arapoglou. You can get in for twenty bucks in advance.

Fortià’s new album Despertar (which could translate either as “awakening” or “waking up,” depending on context) is streaming at Spotify. It’s a gorgeously picturesque, immersively nocturnal, sometimes deviously funny New York-themed dreamscape: it wouldn’t be an overstatement to compare this to anything Fortià’s compatriot Chano Dominguez has released lately.

The first number, Dormir has a dark, spacious sense of anticipation, Fortià’s bass gently puncturing the glistening resonance of Marco Mezquida’s piano over drummer Raphaël Pannier’s meticulous brushwork.

Circular – possibly the first-ever jazz portrait of the JFK airport airtrain – has an elegantly undulating sway and a glistening forward drive that grows more hypnotic as the piano and drums build a spiraling, clustering intensity. Traveling underground has seldom been as picturesque – the ending is too spot-on to give away.

Saudades – Fortià’s shout-out to his old stomping ground in Astoria – has a spring-loaded 12/8 groove, the bassist pulling tensely away from the center as Mezquida ripples enigmatically and Pannier weaves mysteriously in and out of the picture. Like an awful lot of musicians, Fortià’s decision to leave New York was emotionally fraught.

The slow, raptly Harlem-themed Espiritual has a hushedly syncopated oldtime gospel melody and another ending that’s too good to spoil. Fortià’s bass dances tersely over a single, portentous piano chord as the glistening nocturne, El Día Después begins, then Mirabassi builds somber atmosphere in tandem with Pannier’s muted brushwork, up to a terse, spring-loaded bass solo. It’s an understatedly haunting requiem for the 2017 Barcelona train bombing.

Crescente comes across more as a lively depiction of Grand Central passengers strolling to weekend trains than of any kind of afterwork pandemonium – although Pannier’s Metro North beats are priceless. A rumbling circularity gives way to a Piazzolla-esque anthem in Aires de Libertad, a Prospect Park pastorale.

Simple – a salute to the Colombian neighborhood in Jackson Heights – is an exuberantly crescendoing, folk-tinged jazz waltz. Fortià winds up the album with the title cut, shifting from a series of suspenseful intros to a tiptoeing bass solo and a triumphant, raga-esque coda. Let’s hope this brilliant band stays together and we can hear more from them.

May 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Gem From the Golden Age of Jazz Returns to a Favorite Outdoor Midtown Spot This Week

In more normal times, during the warmer months there’s been a long-running weekday series of solo jazz piano performances on the back terrace at Bryant Park, right behind the library. Typically, there are two sets starting at about half past noon. The quality of the musicians is all over the place. Many are relative unknowns, and some of them can be quite good, bringing Asian and latin influences to the music.

Over the years, a few big names have performed here, as have a lot of hacks who have weaseled their way into the good graces of whoever programs these things around town. Because the piano is an electric model, it can have a humbling effect on world-class performers. Interestingly enough, one of the pianists who has figured out how to make it sing is an unlikely candidate: Bertha Hope. She’s playing there every day for the rest of this week through Friday the sixth.

Hope’s thing is songs without words. She’s in her eighties now, still vital, and plays with an unhurried, uncluttered style. She typically plays chords and riffs in the lefthand rather than walking the bass. Her sound draws more on ragtime than blues or swing. As you would expect from someone with her experience, there’s both warmth and a casual gravitas in her songs. This blog most recently caught one of her park shows on a hazy Friday afternoon in July of 2019, where the heat didn’t wear her down and she seemed determined to take advantage of every minute of time she’d been given onstage. Casually and methodically, she made her way through a mix of originals and a few early swing tunes going back to the 30s.

Hope got her start in the 1950s alongside her pianist husband Elmo, who died young in the following decade. She eventually made her way east from her native Los Angeles, put out a respectable number of albums and earlier in this century was rediscovered as one of the attractions at a wildly popular weekly Harlem musicians union jam session. Her records, if you can find them, are worth a listen; she is underrepresented on the web. If the undeservedly obscure fringes of jazz are your thing and you have some time to spend in midtown this week, you will be rewarded if you listen closely.

May 4, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy, Spare, Purposefully Playful New Jazz From Ember and Special Guest Orrin Evans

Ember play a very individualistic, catchy style of original jazz. It’s riff-driven, but it’s not toe-tapping oldtimey swing. Chordless jazz trios tend to busy up the rhythm section – which isn’t such a bad thing if they’re committed to saying something beyond self-indulgence – but saxophonist Caleb Curtis, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza are purposeful to the point of being minimalist. If you’re looking for jazz you can hum along to at a comfortable midtempo pace, this is your jam. Their debut album No One Is Any One is streaming at Sunnyside Records.

A slinky, funky, loopy bassline anchors a sparse, airily cheery melody in the opening track, Reanimation (Zombie Tune). Sperrazza opens that one with a simple beat that’s practically trip-hop. Garabedian is the one to introduce the second tune, Josephine and Daphne, with his steady, pulsing, syncopated chords before Curtis enters, cautiously building s allusively chromatic tune like a low-key JD Allen as Sperrazza colors the sound with his rimshots and frosty cymbals.

The trio step lightly through a stark minor-key oldtime gospel riff and variations in the title cut, Curtis again echoing Allen’s most successful, incisive adventures in the blues. Moody sax drifts over minimal bass and drum accents as the group make their way into the wryly and aptly titled Pilot Light, then Sperrazza signals that the kettle is on the boil and in a second the band bubble and the steam starts to rise.

Likewise, the drummer stirs up a slightly restrained, spiraling rumble in Glass House: Curtis’ irrepressible sense of humor is priceless here. Peace of Deoxygenated Sleep is not a sinister Covid hospital protocol metaphor but an unselfconsciously gorgeous undersea nocturne, Curtis echoing guest pianist Orrin Evans’ spacious, lingering. distantly Indian-tinged lines

Evans takes his time before he gets his sprightly clusters underway in Thomas, a Thomas Chapin homage, Curtis and Sperrazza driving the uneasy modalities as a polyrhythmic intensity simmers and then boils over. A Sperrazza composition, Graceful Without Grace reflects a Christian spiritual concept that serendipity is ours for the taking, a prescient observation in these apocalyptic times. It turns out to be a cheerfully swinging, playful number with stairstepping riffs and a droll game of hide-and-seek.

The next-to-last track, Chia-Sized Standing Desk is actually the furthest thing from cartoonish: this moody rainy-day improvisation is the album’s darkest interlude. They bring the album full circle with a cheerfully strutting shout-out to American Splendor legend Harvey Pekar.

Fun fact: the trio worked up much of the material on this record in Prospect Park. This no doubt would have been more fun if the decision to work alfresco had not been forced on them by the shuttering of indoor rehearsal spaces in the mass psychosis following the March 2020 global coup attempt. Desperate times, etc.

Ember’s next free-world gig is May 13 at 7:30 PM at the Other Side Gallery, 2011 Genesee St in Utica, New York; cover is $20/$10 stud. And Evans is playing a rare trio gig with Matthew Parrish on bass and Vince Ector on drums tonight, April 28 at Mezzrow, with sets at 10:30 and midnight. Cover is $25 at the door. It’s an intimate space: if you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to peek in and see if there’s room (the club doesn’t have a phone).

April 28, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare, Distinctive Male Jazz Vocal Record From Michael Stephenson

Michael Stephenson is a rarity: an individualist male jazz singer. In a world that’s probably about 95 percent women at this point, he distinguishes himself with his no-nonsense baritone and devious sense of humor. You would think that more dudes with his talents would have gone into the field, but at the moment Stephenson pretty much has the floor to himself. And he’s a competent tenor saxophonist as well. His latest album Michael Stephenson Meets the Alexander Claffy Trio is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is jazz as entertainment. He and the group – Claffy on bass, Julius Rodriguez on piano and Itay Morchi on drums, with special guest Benny Benack III on trumpet – are often a party in a box. They open the record with a mostly bass-and-vocal duo version of Sweet Lorraine: Stephenson shows off that he can cut loose on the mic in a split second, and that’s about it. Then things get really amusing with a slyly swinging take of Ray Charles’ Greenbacks, which as Stephenson sings it, are coated in chlorophyll…or maybe something else. No spoilers. Stephenson and Benack’s solos give it a muscular midsection.

Rodriguez and Morchi spiral around, building symphonic intensity to introduce a tightly pulsing version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Happening Brother?, giving voice to indomitability in the face of unrest. How times change, huh?

The group reinvent When a Man Loves a Woman as a straightforward midtempo swing tune: Rodriguez adds judicious gospel touches, with an exuberant solo from Benack. Stephenson and Claffy build intensity with a rubato-ish intro to On the Street Where You Live. then they swing it with a low-key simmer, Rodriguez’s hard-hitting solo giving way to Claffy’s balletesque break.

Stephenson resists reaching for the rafters in a slowly crescendoing take of the Tennessee Waltz, Rodriguez reinventing it with a neoromantic gleam. Stephenson’s smoky, purposeful tenor solo gives Benack a springboard to go for broke with his mute in Ain’t That Love, then he moves to the mic for an emphatic last chorus.

Polka Dots and Moonbeams is probably the last number you would expect a guy to sing: the band give it a lush nocturnal atmosphere, but this is a tough sell, and it’s out of place on what’s otherwise a good party record. On the other hand, the group’s cascading cover of Dionne Warwick’s Can’t Hide Love is a smashing success, Rodriguez fueling the inferno.

The group have fun with Ben Webster’s Did You Call Her Today?, keeping it stealthy until Benack’s trumpet pierces the surface like a missile from a submarine. Stephenson saves his most emotive vocal for his closing duo take of For All We Know with Rodriguez. It’s anybody’s guess where Stephenson is playing next – he’s quite the mystery man on the web – but Benack is leading a quintet at Smalls at 10:30 PM and then hosting the midnight jam session afterward on April 27. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

April 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ayumi Ishito Brings an Adventurous, Outside-the-Box Trio to Chinatown

Even in communities that support the arts, jazz musicians often get pushed to the fringes. The last two years’ insanity in New York has exponentially increased that marginalization for artists in general. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito has been one of the more resourceful players in town: she was one of the first to resume performing during the brief window of opportunity in the summer of 2021, and she’s maintained a steady schedule in recent months playing a lot of out-of-the-way venues as restrictions have been dropped. Her next gig dovetails with both her adventurous improvisational sensibility and her most recent album as a leader. She’s opening a twinbill on April 26 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery with soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. They’re followed by a second trio with Aaron Edgcomb on percussion, Priya Carlberg on vocals and David Leon on sax. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most experimentally ambitious release to date, a mix of trippy electroacoustic pieces featuring Theo Woodward on keys and vocals, Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. Jake Strauss doubling on guitar and bass and Steven Bartashev on drums.

Squiggles quickly give way to a collective shimmer and fragmentary acoustic and electric guitar riffs as the first number, Looking Through Ice drifts along, Woodward adding Indian inflections with his vocalese. Beyond the guitar and vocals, it’s hard to distinguish the rest of the instruments – Ishito using her pedalboard here – until Strauss introduces a gently swaying, Grateful Dead-like theme and Bartashev picks up the clave with his echoey tumbles.

Shifting sheets, dopplers and warpy textures drift through the mix in the second track, Hum Infinite. Strauss finds a center and builds around it, on bass; Ishito’s wry, dry bursts evoke a EWI. The group slowly reach toward an organ soul tune, then back away as Ishito emerges acerbically from behind the liquid crystal sheen.

Track three, Misspoke is irresistibly funny, Ishito and Woodward chewing the scenery, impersonating instruments real and imagined. Strauss’ blippy bass and Bartashev’s tightly staggered drumming propel Folly to the Fullest to tongue-in-cheek hints of a boudoir soul tune, Ishito floating overhead,

Night Chant is an entertaining contrast in starry, woozy electronic textures and goofy wah-wah phrasing from Ishito: stoner electro-jazz as fully concretized as it gets. The final cut, Constellation Ceiling, is a launching pad for Ishito’s most amusing indulgences with the wah,, eventually coalescing into a bit of a triumphant strut, We need more unserious improvisational music like this.

April 24, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leonor Falcon Plays Bracing Violin Jazz For a World on Edge

The title of violinist Leonor Falcón‘s new album Imaga Mondo Vol. II – streaming at Bandcamp – is Esperanto for “imaginary world.” Some of her alternate universe is on the rhythmically free, imaginatively improvisational side; the rest is often vividly cinematic and has considerable bite.

The band slowly coalesce into the first track, Episode 1. Falcon shifts around in search of solid ground, shadowed by Christof Knoche’s bass clarinet, guitarist Juanma Trujillo adding uneasy flares and squirrelly accents as drummer Juan Pablo Carletti stakes out his turf. The group follow a staggered rhythm on Para Emilio, a fondly bucolic theme dedicated to Falcon’s son, individual voices weaving toward the center and then pulling away before bassist Zachary Swanson breaks out his bow for some warm string harmonies at the end.

Cursing Parrots has Knoche’s biting alto sax lines and Falcon’s jagged incisions over Carletti’s loopy syncopation and Trujillo’s burning, sputtering chords. His sunbaked, resonant solo midway through recedes for Falcon’s stark, increasingly acidic washes and the rhythm section’s increasingly loopy insistence.

After that, Falcon completely flips the script with The Monks, a calmly strolling, hypnotically circling, attractive rainy-day tableau with an elegant, Philip Glass-ine intertwine, Knoche on bass clarinet again. The album’s fifth track, A, takes the listener on a disquietingly colorful ride on the A train, through bubbling conversations, a big LOOK OUT crescendo and a sinister swirl fueled by Trujillo’s burning distortion. As is inevitably the case on the New York City subway, all hell eventually breaks loose: the ending is too good to give away. Sana Nagano‘s incendiary recent work comes to mind.

Falcon’s somber viola filters over Trujillo’s stately acoustic guitar figures, Carletti’s muted brushwork and Knoche’s somewhat more lively alto sax in Ballad For a Hawk, inspired by the film The Maltese Falcon. Building out of skeletal flickers and pizzicato, Episode II drifts along in the same vein. Falcon closes the album with Nita, the most calmly inviting tableau here, Knoche’s sax and Falcon’s violin drifting in over Trujillo’s spare, lingering lines. Most of this album isn’t easy listening, but it’s rewarding for those who gravitate to music with sharp edges.

April 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda Defy Logic and Lockdowns to Keep Their Magical Duo Project Alive

Pretty much every musician alive grew up playing along to their favorite records. What if you could not only play along with one, but be on it too?

That happened to bassist Joe Fonda. It helps that he was in the band.

Before the lockdown, Fonda and pianist Satoko Fujii released three frequently mesmerizing live albums, all of them longscale improvisations. While distance and political insanity have kept the duo separated since, they stayed in touch over email, no doubt hoping to pick up where they’d left off months ago. In the meantime, Fujii has maintained her herculean recording schedule with a series of solo albums and online collaborations, most of which reflect the otherworldly, often mystical sensibility she has come to embrace in the last few years.

Fonda heard her solo record Step on Thin Ice at her Bandcamp page and had an epiphany: why not record a bass part and then release that as a duo album? Fujii thought it was a great idea. The new album – which isn’t online yet – has new track names and is resequenced: it’s a fascinating companion piece and incredibly inspiring for bassists who think outside the box.

One of the reasons why it works so well is that Fujii left a lot of space in the original. That’s reflected right from the first track, Kochi, where Fonda resumes the anchoring role he typically filled on the duo’s other recordings, finding crevasses to insert spring-loaded riffs, sometimes shadowing Fujii’s stern, icily gleaming chords and judicious ripples.

In Fallen Leaves Dance, Fonda reinforces Fujii’s quasi Mission Impossible lefthand, providing a supple tether when she spirals off course. He takes a more prominent role with his supple accents in Reflection, in contrast to Fujii’s vast, somberly echoing expanses and muted inside-the-piano work. Then the two reverse roles: little did they know that would happen!.

The tight, scrambling interweave of Anticipating – a coyly accurate description of Fujii’s architectural thinking – comes across as Monk and, say, Henry Grimes methodically driving a George Russell tune up and eventually off the rails. Fonda’s solo contribution is My Song, a catchy, upbeat pop-flavored riff and animated variations

Fonda has sotto-voce, flurrying fun in between Fujii’s torrential, lightning flurries in Sekirei. Is that Fonda on wood flute in Wind Sound, a mysterious extended-technique sound painting? Yup. It’s the last thing you would expect, a verdant transformation of the original.

It’s hard to figure out if or where Fonda appears in Winter Sunshine, a tantalizingly gorgeous, brief variation on Fujii’s lefthand figures in the second track here. His squirrelly textures and keening harmonics add a completely different, playful contrast to Fujiii’s icily starry, hypnotically circling figures in Haru. The closing track, Between Blue Sky and Cold Water has gritty, windswept textures, somber lingering exchanges amid lots of space, and some unexpected levity: it’s Fonda’s recorded debut on cello.

Under ordinary circumstances, adding bass or drums to an album on top of other tracks is pretty crazy, but it’s literally impossible to tell that this wasn’t done together in the studio unless you know the backstory: desperate times, desperate measures. For the moment, Fujii has resumed playing in her native Japan. Fonda’s next New York gig is on a particularly interesting, improvisationally-inclined twinbill on April 19 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, where he opens the night at 6:30 PM in a trio with trumpeter Thomas Heberer and drummer Joe Hertenstein. The 7:30 PM quartet of singers Joan Sue and Isabel Crespo with bassists Nick Dunston and Henry Fraser is also intriguing.

April 14, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mingus Band Bassist Boris Kozlov Pushes the Envelope on His New Album

We are in the midst of what will hopefully become a deluge of recordings from people who are completely blissed out to be making them again. Bassist Boris Kozlov, one of the brain trust behind the Mingus Big Band, is one of those artists. His latest album First Things First is streaming at Bandcamp. “To say that it felt like a breath of fresh air after not being able to breathe is probably right on the money,” he recalls, after spending four marathon days in the studio last fall as both a bandleader and sideman.

Not only has the Mingus group returned to a weekly 7 PM Monday residency – moved to the Django after years at the late, lamented Jazz Standard – but Kozlov is also, predictably, a big part of the celebration of the Mingus centennial there this month. On the 14th at 7 PM, he’s playing with his longtime Mingus bandmate, pianist David Kikoski in a trio with Ari Hoenig on drums. Cover is $25

Kozlov is a thoughtful player: his new record reveals a much more eclectic sensibility than you might expect from someone associated with Mingus’ dark traditionalism. The band open with Page One, shifting from a tantalizingly lyrical ballad intro to a hard-hitting attack on Donny McCasliu’s catchy, funky Stevie Wonder-like tune. Pianist Art Hirahara drives the intensity upward to an understated, slithery Kozlov solo before the saxophonist takes it out with an irrepressible bounce.

McCaslin switches to alto flute and Kozlov to electric bass for Flow, a balmy tropical tableau livened with Behn Gillece’s twinkling vibraphone, drummer Rudy Royston providing a tiptoeing latin rhythm. The More Things Change, a Hirahara tune, has an avuncular, wryly retro cheer, with expressive tenor sax, vibes and piano solos

In the album liner notes, Kozlov recalls the time when Charlie Parker called up Stravinsky, put The Rite of Spring on the turntable and jammed out, to the composer’s amazement. I.S. Adventure is an expansive exploration of that concept, a rapidfire swing number based on one of those Stravinsky riffs, Gillece holding tight to the center as Royston takes a characteristically colorful charge.

Aftermath begins as an unsettled ballad, then the band make their way up to a big McCaslin payoff: after all we’ve been through, they seem to say, we’ve earned this. Kozlov goes electric again in Second Line Sally, a shuffling McCaslin tune reinvented with Hirahara on organ, the saxophonist contributing his most acerbic solo of many here

Kozlov bows a murky drone as the group rise from the tarpit while McCaslin plays scout in Viscous, a bitingly magical improvisational moment. Royston and then Kozlov fuel a determined swing as Gillece and Hirahara build a rainstorm around them. The group shift between a similarly edgy, unsettled ambience and an insistently funky drive in Mind Palace, a Gillece tune with some deliciously acidic McCaslin chromatics and a phantasmagorically enveloping vibraphone solo..

Kozlov’s tersely modal bass leads the group slowly toward a more summery, casually swinging ambience in Warm Sand, McCaslin slaying in both animated and reflective moments. Kozlov’s Russian accordionist uncle, the inspiration for Once a Fog in Babylon, seems to have been a big fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis: this swirly art-rock organ tune is an unexpected but spot-on diversion. The closing number, Eclipse, a mysterious, overtone-laced miniature, makes a good segue. This is not an album to multitask to: these guys caught a lot of magic in this bottle.

April 12, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sophisticated Gutbucket Party Music and a Smalls Show Tonight by Nick Hempton

On one hand, saxophonist Nick Hempton is a throwback to an earlier era when jazz was the default party music throughout urban areas coast to coast. But he’s also found a way to push the envelope with a funky, percolating organ jazz sound. He’s leading a killer quartet at 10:30 PM tonight, April 10 at Smalls, with Akiko Tsuruga, a similarly sly and inventive player on organ. If you stick around, you can watch the club’s legendary nightly jam session afterward at midnight; cover is $25 cash at the door. Smalls is the only place in town that offers a cash discount: those too lazy or clueless to use cash have to fork over $40.

Hempton released his latest album Slick – streaming at Bandcamp – late last year, with his longtime “dream team” bandmates Peter Bernstein on guitar, Kyle Koehler on organ and Fukushi Tainaka on drums. What hits you right upside the head is that this about tunes, not just ostentatious soloing: it’s rare that a saxophonist plays so few notes as a bandleader, yet makes them all count.

They open with The Runaround, a purposeful, catchy stroll. The highlights are in the subtleties, most notably in Tainaka’s little against-the-current flourishes. Hempton has a thing for noir, exemplified here in the latinized Vegas shuffle Liar’s Dice, which he takes in a more playfully shuffling direction. The cotton is high, but in the distance, in Born to Be Blue, a lingering but purposeful ballad.

Hempton leads the group through the lickety-split volleys of Short Shrift with his lightning articulacy on alto sax. Switching back to tenor, he salutes his jazz-loving octogenarian neighbor in the energetically bluesy swing tune Upstairs Eddy, testament to how fast New York musicians learn who our friends (and enemies) are.

He and the band take a balmy tiptoe swing through their take of People Will Say We’re in Love: one of the coolest moments is where Bernstein takes a solo and Koehler adjusts his drawbars to where it’s almost as if he’s playing rhythm guitar. Likewise, the guitarist leads a very subtle diversion in Hempton’s melody to introduce a slinky Koehler solo in the next track, Snake Oil.

The Gypsy here is a laid-back gutbucket organ jazz regular who winks at all the girls, but they love him anyway. Hempton saves the most expansive tracks for last – who knows, maybe his approach to recording live in the studio without headphones resulted in having some extra time left over. So they made the most of it, first in Fryin’ With Fergus, a bluesy midtempo tune where Hempton gets to indulge in some carefree but devious tradeoffs with Koehler and Tainaka. They close with The Masquerade Is Over, giving the wistful changes an optimistic swing. Wine-hour escapist music for those outside of Ukraine who still have electric power? Sure, why not. After all we’ve been through these past two years, we deserve music like this.

April 10, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Charles Mingus’ Depth and Irony at the Django This Month

There’s a monthlong celebration of the Charles Mingus centennial going on at the Django right now, which is open without restrictions. One of this month’s potentially most adrenalizing shows is bassist Boris Kozlov’s so-called “Electric Mingus Project” with Johnathan Blake on drums, who are playing at 10 PM on April 9. Kozlov is the musical director of the Mingus Big Band, who have reconvened their weekly 7 PM Monday night residency there after the Jazz Standard, their longtime home, fell victim to the 2020 lockdown. Cover is $25.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Mingus tribute albums coming out this year, and Kozlov is on one of the best of the bunch so far. Posi-Tone Records pulled together an allstar lineup they call Blue Moods, whose all-Mingus album Myth & Wisdom is streaming at Bandcamp. These guys really nail everything that Mingus is all about – the irony, and gravitas, and cynicism that sometimes boils over.

And while some of these songs are iconic, there are handful of rarer gems as well, often very counterintuitively reinvented. The group open the album with Better Get it in Your Soul, a tightly scrambling, stripped-down take of this subtly sardonic 12/8 anthem, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera’s smoky, shuffling lines over pianist Art Hirahara’s increasingly crushing attack in tandem with drummer Joe Strasser.

Strasser gives Nostalgia in Times Square a loose-limbed latin groove, shifting between that same time signature and a sly swing, River and Hirahara hitting on the beat before the pianist and then River use the bluesy changes as a launching pad.

Kozlov and Strasser infuse Tonight At Noon with a breathless urban bustle, Rivera matching the precise forward drive over Hirahara’s similarly purposeful ripples and chords. They open Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love on a aptly balmy, languid note but then have fun mixing up the rhythm, a glistening, lyrical David Kikoski piano solo at the center.

One of the most radical reinventions here is Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk, Mingus’ restless, distantly Stravinskian ballad reconfigured as a slow drag assembled around a soulful, exploratory Rivera solo before Hirahara takes the band flying for a bit. The quartet then condense Peggy’s Blue Skylight to a purposeful five minutes or so of no-nonsense swing

They raise the underlying devious slinkiness several notches in Pussy Cat Dues, Hirahara adding a steely modal edge beneath Rivera’s enigmatic blues. The decision to make a twisted cha-cha out of Pithecanthropus Erectus might seem odd, downplaying Mingus’ withering sarcasm for a more incisive approach fueled by a long Kikoski solo.

Rivera pairs a calm, reflective soulfulness against Hirahara’s impressionistic ripples in an expansive take of Self-Portrait in Three Colors. They close with a hard-charging, gritty Reincarnation of a Lovebird, where Rivera and Hirahara get to swing their sharpest edges here. High as the guy who wrote these songs set the bar, Mingus fans will  not be disappointed.

April 5, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment