Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Buck and a Quarter Quartet: A Party in a Box in an Unexpected Spot

It’s been estimated that a quarter of this city’s 2019 population left in the months following the 2020 lockdown. Whatever the actual percentage is, it stands to reason that those who could afford to get out, did.

Beyond the Cuomo regime’s throttling of music venues when the disgraced former governor criminalized indoor live performances, the resulting brain drain has no doubt exacerbated the closure of so many former hotspots, both from the demand and the supply side. It also helps explain why an unorthodox 20s hot jazz band like the Buck and a Quarter Quartet would be playing a pseudo-honkytonk like Skinny Dennis, where they’ll be at 9 PM on Feb 6.

Prior to March of 2020, they were a familiar presence in what was left of the Americana scene here, at places which have since fallen victim to the “you comply, you die” trap. Ultimately, it may be a blessing in disguise for this irrepressibly upbeat crew to find a new following off their old turf, because they’re a lot of fun: there’s more room for dancing where they’ll be next week than there was where they used to play.

This band – who seem to be a rotating cast of devoted oldtimey swing players – make 78 RPM records and keep a pretty low profile online. Although their greatest love seems to be obscure and odd treasures from the 20s and 30s, the live clips up at their youtube channel are mostly well-known tunes. But it gives you a good idea of what they’re about.

The quartet expand to a sextet on their take of When I Take My Sugar to Tea, which they do as a pretty straight-up string band shuffle until they leap into doublespeed. Violinist John Landry provides a stark intro and then sings It’s Mating Time, an innuendo-fueled tune undulating along on the beat of John Bianchi’s tenor banjo, Angus Lauten’s baritone uke, Carl Luckert’s National Steel guitar, Ben Mealer’s uke and Brian Nalpeka’s bass.

They strut nonchalantly through a ramshackle version of If I Had You, then Lauten switches to glockenspiel and Nalepka bows his bass to mimic a tuba on a wry, steady take of Deed I Do. Bianchi switches to clarinet for an expansive, upbeat but unexpectedly lush swing through The Very Thought of You, the last of the youtube clips. These guys don’t let you forget for one second that a hundred years ago, jazz was the default party music throughout much of the world, some Williamsburg bars included.

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January 30, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Formanek Plays a Richly Disquieting Brooklyn Album Release Show

Last night at Roulette, bassist Michael Formanek led his Drome Trio with reedman Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza through two rewardingly acerbic sets to celebrate the release of their new album Were We Where We Were. That title opens up a floodgate of questions: do we romanticize the deeply flawed world we had before the March, 2020 fascist takeover? Are we out of the woods yet? Do Formanek’s stunningly vivid, persistently troubled compositions reflect a present danger? It’s hard to believe that this frequently haunting performance could be as simple as a band merely flexing their chops throughout a set of edgy and unselfconsciously profound new compositions.

Doxas opened the show solo with a simple but spine-tingling series of vaguely Armenian microtonal riffs, Sperrazza quickly rising from a loose-limbed pulse to an increasing storm, Formanek unperturbed at the center, leading the group subtly toward a steady sway as Doxas circled his way through a long, uneasy, Messiaenic passage. Formanek’s allusive solo bubbled and signaled a long, melancholy drift down to a suspenseful handoff to Sperrazza, who then channeled the spirits with a momentary shamanic break. The trio brought everything full circle at several times the energy.

That was just the first 25 minutes or so.

Doxas echoed Formanek’s phantasmagorically-tinged opening solo as Sperrazza’s drizzle gained force in the second number. Wary Jackie McLean-like sax phrases and wispy hints of vaudeville from Sperrazza followed. A coy, wispy sax-drum conversation set off a wistful, spacious solo from Doxas, who’d switched to clarinet. They ended cold.

Pianist Angelica Sanchez then joined them, choosing her spots to bound and ripple with a blithe Monklike swing in the first set’s closing number. Still, a disquiet persisted in her bell-like harmonies. Doxas took over with his muscular tenor lines, Formanek again an anchor with his insistent polyrhythms,

Sanchez opened the second set with an austere, somber solo, elevating to a clenched-teethed, close-harmonied intensity. It seemed she couldn’t wait to lighten the mood somewhat with a series of thorny rivulets. Doxas parsed the lower registers with a sinuous, Charlie Rouse-tinged solo, Formanek taking the song out on a fondly assertive note.

Next, the quartet danced through a catchy, Monkish swing fueled by Sperrazza’s subtle clave and Doxas’ smoky, insistent modal riffage. When he dropped out and Sanchez pulled the curtain back with a catchy if immutably melancholy solo, the effect was viscerally breathtaking.

The number after that made a good segue, with a more brooding chromaticism, through pulses and lulls. A wary mood persisted throughout, even the incisive Monkish riffage and syncopated bounce of the quartet’s concluding tune, with a tremoloing Doxas tenor solo and Sanchez’s eerily lingering incisions. Formanek plays in plenty of groups, but this might be the best of them all. Let’s hope this project continues.

The next jazz concert at Roulette is tomorrow night, Jan 26 at 8 PM, an epic performance where guitarist Joel Harrison leads five different ensembles including his Jazz Orchestra conducted by another fantastic composer, Erica Seguine, plus the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum, plus the Alta String Quartet. You can get in for $25 in advance.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Trio Show and a Rewardingly Surreal Album From the Protean Brandon Seabrook

Brandon Seabrook is one of the most fascinatingly mutable guitarists in jazz. He can be competely feral and unhinged one minute – notably with his wryly named Seabrook Power Plant – and then hit the stage and play gorgeously and lyrically in Cecile McLorin Salvant’s band. He’s playing what could be a similarly lyrical gig with the Sexmob rhythm section, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums at Bar Lunatico on Jan 23 at 9 PM.

In keeping with Seabrook’s unpredictable nature, one of his most outside-the-box recent albums is In the Swarm, a trio session with Cooper-Moore on diddley bow and Gerald Cleaver on drums, streaming at Bandcamp. This is the second they’ve done together. Parts of it are a strange and often deliciously noisy theme and variations, sometimes akin to Flowers of Romance-era PiL without the vocals.

They open with the title track. Cleaver lays down a hypnotic, shamanic beat, somebody sends a whistling electronic tone through the mix and Seabrook enters jaggedly on banjo. From there, Cooper-Moore’s loping, muted bassline anchors the forward drive as Cleaver edges outward and the bandleader squirrels around. They take it out on an unexpectedly ambient note.

The second number is Subliminal Gaucheries (Seabrook is good with titles). Spare, sparkling, mobile-like figures linger amid an ambient lustre as Cleaver makes his way in with a quieter, more suspenseful, shamanic pulse. Seabrook dives into orange-flame, distorted skronk and ugly close harmonies before hitting his envelope pedal for an icy warp in Vibrancy Yourself: it wouldn’t be out of place in Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog catalog.

How nocturnal is Crepuscule of Cleaver? It’s not. The rhythm section run a tight but lithe variation on the opening rhythm as Seabrook chooses his spots to squall. The diddley bow is an intriguing texture, somewhere between the growl of an electric bass and the low-midrange pop of a sintir in Adrenaline Charters, Seabrook bowing long sustained tones and then plunking out steady circularities on banjo.

Seething Excitations lives up to its title, Seabrook rising from an ominously distant tremolo to a more cumulo-nimbus attack as Cleaver builds a slowly cantering groove. They wind it out atmospherically.

The album’s big ten-minute epic is Aghastitude, Seabrook flinging out echoes of twangy surf over smoke-off-the-battlefield sonics, then Cleaver gets the waves going with his cymbals as the stringed instruments grow more frenetic. Flickers, skronk and icepick runs from Seabrook figure in from there. They close with a tantalizingly grimy minute-long miniature.

January 21, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conrad Herwig Reinvents Charles Mingus With Some Cuban Spices

Making an album of jazz classics inevitably invites ugly comparisons to the originals. But considering trombonist Conrad Herwig‘s longtime membership in the Mingus Big Band, he had an inside track to recording his latest album The Latin Side of Mingus, streaming at Spotify. Herwig can be an electrifying soloist and has the requisite sense of humor along with the fondness for latin sounds that go hand in hand with his instrument. Considering the formidable lineup he assembled for the record, it’s a fair bet that the septet he’ll have for his upcoming three nights this month at the Django will be just as strong. He’s there on Jan 17, 24 and 31, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25.

This isn’t Herwig’s first adventure into remaking canonical repertoire as latin jazz, but it’s arguably his best. The band – Randy Brecker and Alex Sipiagin on trumpets, Craig Handy on tenor sax, Bill O’Connell on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, Robby Ameen on drums and Camilo Molina on congas – have a lot of fun with a Mingus mix of both iconic and more obscure but equally slashing material.

They don’t waste time reinventing Gunslinging Bird as a sleek, pouncingly direct platform for machinegunning trumpet and trombone solos, O’Connell subtly edging from dissociative postbop into more distinctly Cuban territory. Boogie Stop Shuffle is an interesting choice. It’s hard to top the gleeful noir bustle of the original. But Herwig’s decision to slow it down a bit with a churning congra groove,  simmering trombone and trumpet solos and O’Connell finally reaching escape velocity, makes sense in context.

No Dejes Que Pase Aquí is a remake of Don’t Let It Happen Here, which couldn’t be more relevant considering that it’s based on Pastor Martin Niemoller’s warning about who Nazis come for before they come for you. Ruben Blades delivers Mingus’ voiceover in both the original English and then Spanish: Herwig’s flamenco-noir brass arrangement and phantasmagorical polyrhythms raise the intensity exponentially. Great song!

Herwig’s choice to redo Goodbye Pork Pie Hat with a slinky, altered guaguanco groove results in an aptly wistful but simmering atmosphere, Handy switching to flute for a charanga-flavored break before a scrambling O’Connell solo. Hora Decubitus is considerably more suave than Mingus’ own frantic urban tableau, with solos in a chattering round.

O’Connell plays twinkling Rhodes electric piano behind resonant, mutedly orchestral horns and a tiptoeing clave in Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, Handy anchoring in a grittier edge with his solo. All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother is the big surprise choice here. It’s a lot more expansive and doesn’t have the goofy camaraderie that trumpeter Ted Curson and drummer Dannie Richmond made so memorable in the Mingus quartet version.

The album’s final cut is a lively take of Better Get Hit in Your Soul with the band bookending a New Orleans-flavored chart around a terse Brecker trumpet break.

January 13, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Translucent Album and a NY Piano Festival Appearance From Laszlo Gardony

That recently revived January jazz spinoff of the annual booking agents’ convention has finally reached the point where it has priced and marginalized itself off this blog’s radar. Meanwhile, there have been some interesting alternatives popping up around town lately. One is the NY Jazz Piano Festival, which distinguishes itself by programming mostly solo performances by artists who excel in that setting. It’s on the pricy side – $30 per set – although if you want to make a daylong or even a weekend-plus marathon out of it, you have that option. The lineup on Jan 15 is especially choice, beginning at noon with the Eastern European-inspired and often haunting Laszlo Gardony. Orrin Evans – who despite the many demands on his time is fantastic solo – plays at 3, with symphonic latin jazz player Dayramir Gonzalez at 4:30, world-class improviser Jean-Michel Pilc at 6, and the reliably lyrical and mercurial Marc Cary at 8. It’s all happening at Klavierhaus, a piano showroom frequently utilized for classical music and recently relocated to 790 11th Ave. at 54th St.

Gardony’s latest album is Close Connection, a trio recording with fellow Bostonians John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums, streaming at Bandcamp. Gardony’s melodies are terse and translucent: some of these songs without words remind of early Soft Machine or 70s Morricone film scores, with distant echoes of Bartok’s piano miniatures. The trio open with Irrepressible, built around a catchy, punchy riff-rock theme spiced with incisive blues but also chromatics and uneasy close harmonies that reflect Gardony’s Hungarian heritage.

Bass and drums begin Strong Minds with a simple trip-hop rhythm, then Lockwood builds a muted suspense beneath Gardony’s shifts between emphatic riffage, ripples and occasional phantasmagoria. Gardony peruses the upper registers gently as Sweet Thoughts gets underway, then Israel rises above a piano loop with his misty cymbals and loose-limbed accents.

The group lock in on an insistent vamp in Cedar Tree Dance, Gardony punching into the blues, then backing away for a moonlight half-mile as Lockwood tiptoes and Israel rustles into kicking off a darker dervish dance on the way out. Gardony’s hard-hitting precision remains, aptly, in All That Remains, a moody tone poem of sorts, Lockwood again playing good cop to Gardony’s stern attack.

.Times of Discord – now there’s a theme for 2023, huh? – has a similar, gritty forward drive, Israel taking over the propulsion as Gardony energetically works the brooding passing tones. Then Israel plays kalimba behind Gardony’s melodica in Savanna Sunrise, a goofy, calypso-tinged piece. They reprise it a little later as a subtly gospel-tinged piano number.

Walking in Silence is Gardony at his best, a wintry, somber tune, Lockwood and Israel filling in the edges gingerly over alternately spare and driving close-harmonied piano. Gardony parses some fond, familiar motives with hints of both gospel and calypso in Hopeful Vision, the album’s lone solo tune.

Gardony scampers into tensely syncopated, darkly carnivalesque territory in the aptly titled Night Run: it’s the album’s hardest-charging song. The trio conclude with Cold Earth, a sepulchral tableau where Israel’s flitting, poltergeist flickers mingle with Lockwood’s melancholy bowing and the bandleader’s grim pedalpoint. Fans of melodic European players like Romain Collin and riff-driven improvisers like Rachel Z will love this record.

January 11, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vividly Symphonic, Epic Big Band Album and a Chinatown Gig From Pianist Manuel Valera

Pianist Manuel Valera has been a reliably tuneful fixture on the New York jazz stage, best known for his monthly residency with his New Cuban Express at Terraza 7, which ran for years until live music was criminalized here in 2020. His latest big band album, Distancia, counts as one of the millions which would have been released sometime that year if we all hadn’t been rudely interrupted. The good news is that he managed to finish it – that fall, restrictions be damned – and it’s streaming at Spotify. Valera and his New Cuban Express are at the Django on Jan 10 at 7 PM; cover is $25. For those who want to make a whole night of it, the 10:30 PM act, Sonido Costeno, play fiery guitar-fueled salsa dura and are also a lot of fun.

Like a lot of his countrymen, Valera has both a lyrical neoromantic side and a love for slinky beats, and his arrangements are nothing short of symphonic. Pretty much everything here is past ten minutes or close to it. He opens the record with Expectativas, the percussion answering the trombones to set up a catchy modal piano vamp and some cleverly lush exchanges by massed brass. Soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow ranges from allusive chromatics to a wicked downward spiral in a tantalizingly brief solo; trumpeter Brian Pareschi takes his time choosing his spots, then backing away for a light-fingered Samuel Torres conga solo artfully echoed by drummer Jimmy Macbride with a flick of his cymbals. It sets the stage for the rest of this absolutely brilliant, consistently gorgeous album.

The riffage in the interplay among the brass in the second number, Gemini, is a lot punchier, Valera hinting at a rhythmic shift before the group backs off for a cheery, spaciously paced Pareschi solo matched by baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas. Valera keeps the pulse going with an incisive, rhythmic solo as Macbride shadows him; the band bring the tune full circle, guitarist Alex Goodman tantalizing with his pensive solo out.

Camila Meza’s signature lustrous vocalese mingles within catchy, fugal brass to introduce From Afar, the group developing a slow, orchestral sway, dipping to a spare, somewhat wistful trumpet solo. The way Valera sneaks Meza and the band back up into the mix is as artful as it is unselfconsciously gorgeous. It ends unresolved.

The tradeoffs are faster and lighter in Pathways: it’s a goodnatured joust, up to a meticulously articulated Valera break and a flurrying Michael Thomas alto sax solo. Meza carries the big riff through a fleeting piano/alto conversation. The horns give way to a moody moment as From the Ashes grows into a nimbly orchestrated salsa tune, but without the usual rumble on the low end. Trombonist Matt Macdonald flickers allusively; Valera tumbles and ripples, Macbride firing off a shower of cymbals. Pillow punches in as the forward drive grows funkier; the bandleader’s sudden turn toward the shadows will grab you by surprise. Lots of that on this record.

Impressionistic Romance is intriguingly allusive and tinged with the High Romantic, fueled by Valera’s steady cascades, a hint of a grim march and Bernard Herrmann. Echo effects move into the center as the low brass simmers and punches, Valera following a determined, unresolved tangent that the horns bring back to an uneasy landing.

Valera stays in brooding mode to open the album’s title track, Pillow pushing the group toward a warmer morning theme, then taking a more pensive break. Valera teams up with singer Bogna Kicinska’s resonant vocalese to build a glistening nocturnal tableau on the way out. He winds up the album where he started with the steady counterpoint and implied, vampy salsa groove of Remembere. It’s more straight-up big band jazz than it is traditionally Cuban; whatever the case, this is one of the most delicious big band albums of recent months.

January 7, 2023 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Playful, Entertaining, Dynamic New Album of Genre-Busting String Music From the PubliQuartet

You could debate whether the PubliQuartet’s latest album What Is American – streaming at Bandcamp – is punk classical, or the avant garde, or string jazz, or oldtimey string band music. You’d be right on all counts. The foursome of violinists Curtis Stewart and Nick Revel, violist Jannina Norpoth and cellist Hamilton Berry have a great time reinventing an iconic classical quartet, a couple of famous jazz numbers, and unveil a handful of world premieres that defy category. The central theme is exploring the many threads that make up what we might call American music. While it’s a lot of fun and eclectic to the extreme, the group also don’t shy away from themes of segregation or discrimination: again, highly relevant in the wake of the March 2020 global takeover attempt.

The group intersperse their own miniatures in between several of the pieces, taking turns narrating an Oliver Wendell Holmes text. “Down, down with the traitor” – powerful words for 2023!

The first work on the album is improvisations on Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, No. 12, Op. 96. Movement one sets the stage: this is punk classical. spiked with slashes, slow drifting tones and percussive extended technique within a straightforward proto-Gershwin march. While the group blend several unembellished themes from the original, their reinterpretation is more brief.

They put a lively pizzicato swing beat to the lento second movement, when they’re not adding flitting, ghostly harmonics to the rustic oldtime gospel theme. Interestingly, the molto vivace third movement is a lot more circumspect and spacious in places. The quartet punch in hard with a march on the final movement, then back away with a hazy, contrapuntal chorale over loopy, jagged harmonics: if they recorded this live, it’s all the more impressive how they handled this polyrhythmic maze.

The ensemble build Rhiannon Giddens‘ At the Purchaser’s Option from stark oldtime blues-flavored trip-hop to a mighty anthem. Likewise, they turn Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose into shivery indie classical and jaunty ragtime, with a voiceover by A’Lelia Bundles. In a diptych of Ornette Coleman’s Law Years, they veer from anthemic intensity to flickering disquiet and jaggedly dissociative blues.

The opening movement of the world premiere of Vijay Iyer‘s relatively brief string quartet Dig the Say is Carry the Ball. a jauntily swaying, riffy theme over hypnotic, rhythmic pedalpoint. The second movement, This Thing Together is equally hypnotic, but in a hazily drifting way. Movement three, Up From the Ground is bouncy and has handclaps; the final movement, To Live Tomorrow wraps it up with a jaggedly opaque edge. Iyer’s milieu may be jazz, and a lot more expansive than this, but this is a triumph of tight, genre-resistant tunesmithing.

Another world premiere, Roscoe Mitchell’s CARDS 11-11-2020 is the most ambient, minimalist and astringent work here, punctuated by echo effects and plucky pizzicato before an unexpectedly lively, acerbic coda.

The ensemble wind up the record with a medley of four covers from the worlds of soul and blues. They reinvent Tina Turner’s Black Coffee as a quasi-spiritual in 6/8 time, then bring a biting blues edge and slithery extended technique to They Say I’m Different, by Betty Davis. The driftiest, most sepulchral piece here is Alice Coltrane’s Er Ra, although the group can’t resist rising with a triumphant if whispery lattice of harmonics. They close by digging triumphantly into a determinedly swinging take of Ida Cox’s Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.

The PubliQuartet don’t have any New York gigs coming up, but Giddens is playing an intriguing show on Jan 12 at 7 PM at the Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she’s joined by pianist Howard Watkins and a cast of singers in a salute to the thirty thousand slaves who escaped captivity prior to the Civil War. You can get in for $35.

January 6, 2023 Posted by | avant garde music, blues music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dive Into One of the Most Lyrical, Vivid Free Jazz Albums of the Last Few Years

More about that weeklong celebration of Studio Rivbea, which was a focal point in the loft jazz scene in the 70s and 80s. The series of shows in the 24 Bond St. space where Sam Rivers threw one rent party jam after another – now the Gene Frankel Theater – continues through this weekend. The next really tempting lineup is Jan 6 at 7 PM, beginning with saxophonist Isaiah Barr leading a trio, followed at 8:30 by poet Anne Waldman with Devin Waldman on sax and at 9 ubiquitous bassist William Parker with his dancer wife Patricia Nicholson, Ellen Christi on vocals and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. You can get in for a reasonable $25 in advance

The central figure here is Parker, who may have played on more free jazz albums than anybody else. Here’s one of the best of the recent batch: Sparks, with Eri Yamamoto on piano, Chad Fowler on stritch and saxello and Steve Hirsh on drums, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is not a record for people with short attention spans, but if you free your mind, your ears will follow and thank you. Yamamoto edges toward a sagacious, bluesy ballad to introduce the title track, Fowler hanging in retrograde shadow with his blue notes. A lull signals a long, vivid, contented Pharaoh Sanders-ish interlude from Fowler over Yamamoto’s spacious chords, which she gets to take by herself into more insistent terrain before they wind it out with a warm wee-hours vibe.

Fowler works variations on a cheery calypso riff in the second number, In the Garden, the rest of the band building a turbulent whirlpool and eventually pulling him in. Parker’s wary bowed solo is over too soon; Yamamoto’s decision to take a shadowy exit rather than let good cop Fowler take the reins again pays off quietly but mightily. Ultimately, sunshiney energy wins out.

Likewise, the quartet conjure a swing tune out of nowhere, Sam Rivers style in Bob’s Pink Cadillac, Parker taking it doublespeed for a light-fingered but incisively rhythmic Yamamoto solo. Fowler puts a light disguise on an iconic Gershwin quote and then shifts it around as the band flurry and pounce. As is often the case here, the group let a lot more space in and engage in fleeting moments of jousting. As the title indicates, it’s the album’s most playful (i.e. goofiest) number.

Fowler pulls the rest of the group to echo his initial somber oldtime blues riff to get Taiko, the next track, off the ground. Yamamoto’s icy accents linger above Parker’s wounded slow-walk and the two build a cumulo-nimbus intensity while Hirsh stirs up a vortex below. Fowler follows with melismatic gloom as his bandmates team up for muted pointillisms, Parker fueling a more phantasmagorical atmosphere. Yamamoto takes her time getting out, but Hirsh pulls her up and the mood lifts a little. Lots happening on this record!

She introduces the final number, Real World with a plaintive, expectant riff, Fowler reaching for a balmy ballad before shifting to more brooding territory as Parker builds out a back alley lot with his bow. Wry quotes and paraphrases juxtapose with a dark modal simmer; Yamamoto gets a racewalking swing going behind Fowler’s squawks and glissandos, then takes a glistening, neoromantically-tinged solo as Hirsh rattles and ices the windows with his cymbals. Fowler returns to balladeer role, taking the music into a spacious stillness and finally a sly, pianissimo rimshot solo from Hirsh. Yamamoto ushers in a graceful exit. Free jazz doesn’t get any better than this.

It’s also worth mentioning Yamamoto’s poignant album from last year, A Woman With a Purple Wig, where she makes her recorded debut on vocals in response to a vicious anti-Asian attack in the early days of the Covid scam.

January 4, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blissfully Electrifying Duo Album From Saxophone Powerhouse Isaiah Collier

For those who might be contemplating the overpriced (and possibly restriction-plagued) jazz extravaganza that’s happening all over town next week, there’s a smaller one this week that’s a lot more intriguing and historically based – and doesn’t have restrictions. It’s a salute to an iconic venue from the loft jazz era, Studio Rivbea, and it’s happening in the original location. The Gene Frankel Theater, the latest to occupy the space at at 24 Bond St. off Broadway, is selling tickets for a reasonable $25 in advance.

One of the most intriguing shows is an improvisational triplebill coming up fast on Jan 5. It starts at 7 with Cooper-Moore on diddley bow, probably piano and who knows what else, joined by Melanie Dyer on viola and Brian Price on reeds. At 8:30 Ahmed Abdullah plays trumpet behind poet Monique Ngozi Nri; at 9 lyrical, politically fearless alto saxophonist Isaiah Collier leads a trio with Antoine Roney on sax and Tcheser Holmes on percussion.

Collier is the real beast on this bill, the rare guy who looks back to Pharaoh Sanders and Coltrane at their most feral, but doesn’t ape either. His latest album Beyond with his I Am duo with drummer Michael Shekwoaga Ode – fearlessly recorded under difficult circumstances in Chicago during the summer of 2021 – is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s spiritually-inspired, and the spirits were definitely in the house for these two.

This is an album for people with long attention spans to bliss out with. Texturally, it’s luscious: Collier plays duduk and soprano sax in addition to his usual tenor. Appropriately enough for this moment in time, it’s variations on a theme titled Mercury’s Retrograde, from Collier’s Cosmic Transitions album. Think vintage late-zeros JD Allen without the bass and you get a good idea of what Collier and Ode are up to here.

Surprise guest Jimmy Chan opens the record with a soundscape, his spare, rapturous singing bowls and a trippy, echoey, troubled poem that speaks to transcending historical patterns of evil and domination. Ode joins with his gongs and rattles as Collier sirens and trills ominously in the distance.

Methodically and plaintively, Collier’s duduk rises from variations on a stern minor-key oldtime gospel riff, then he switches to soprano sax for lightning trills and spirals as Ode churns up a fortification on the perimeter in track two, Suns of Mercury (Storms of Revelations).

Likewise, the two begin Confessions of the Heart as a brooding, reflective variation, Collier moving to tenor as he rises to a relentless yet meticulously articulated series of downward cascades. Finally, he goes off the rails, but the return is sage, and calm, and resolute – and catchy as hell. Free jazz is seldom this melodic.

Bend of the Universe (Trust With All Your Heart) begins as a more lighthearted if breathtaking display of control and technique, Collier’s quicksilver glissandos and eventual ascension to imploring squall mixed with varying degrees of reverb. The big, practically fourteen-minute epic here is The Vessel Speaks, Ode expanding outward from a shuffle to a more loose-limbed attack as Collier spins and volleys. It’s rare to hear such ferocity articulated this clearly – Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the few who can. The hail-and-lightning interlude between sax and drums about halfway in is the high point of the record – and yet, Collier pulls back with a sober modal intensity. Ode brings back the stunning articulacy in his machinegunning solo out.

With all the reverb, it’s almost as if Collier is playing a EWI instead of a baritone as he builds a wry and increasingly difficult conversation between two very distinct personalities in the punchy riffage of Omniscient (Mycelium). And the surprise ending is way too good to give away.

The duo close with Hymn: Love Beyond Compare, Collier taking a long, balmy intro before Ode’s tight barrel rolls launch a coda that leaves room for unease.

January 3, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frank Carlberg’s Brilliant New Album Evokes the Most Disquieting Side of Thelonious Monk

Is it possible that there have been a million Thelonious Monk tribute albums released to date? Maybe not, but it sure feels like that. Rather than trying to match an icon at his own game, pianist Frank Carlberg and his trio – bassist John Hebert and drummer Francisco Mela – have released a darkly playful, often haunting, spot-on album, Reflections 1952, streaming at 577 Records. It’s a highly improvisational take on many iconic Monk themes, inspired by the hat-wearing pianist’s iconic 1952 and 1954 Van Gelder studio sessions. There aren’t a lot of jazz pianists who really “get” Monk’s phantasmagoria – Fred Hersch is one – but for Carlberg, this is ripe territory for his signature, carnivalesque explorations. And as the song titles indicate, there are so many good jokes and quotes here that it would be just plain wrong to spoil them. Carlberg and the trio play the album release show on Jan 3 at Mezzrow, with sets at 7:30/9 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door

The opening number, Spherical Nightmares begins with a muted crash, flickers from the bass and drums. Carlberg scurries and pounces a little, takes a warm but stern detour into boogie-woogie, then backs away for a sepulchrally dancing interlude. It ends decidedly unresolved.

Carlberg’s daughter Priya contributes airy, similarly ghostly vocals on the second number, A Crowd of Gigolo, which comes across as a drifting, electroacoustic jam on America the Beautiful. Sweet and Sour, Pungent and Lovely has a loose-limbed swing: it’s as tongue-in-cheek jaunty as it is momentarily chilling, and Mela’s sotto-voce groove while Hebert dances around is priceless.

Getting to Trinkle is aptly titled: the three triangulate spacious and sprightly fragments of the famous theme, Mela and then Hebert pushing toward a flashpoint that Carlberg deviously resists.

Bemsha Cubano is an increasingly tasty, creepily tiptoeing cha-cha, Mela’s invigorating vocals notwithstanding. Carlberg ramps up the eerie Messiaenic belltones with vast expanses but also unexpected brightness in Some Things Foolish.

Paul Lichter contributes a distantly echoey spoken word pastiche of Monk quotes in Reflecting Reflections as Carlberg sagely and slowly cascades and ripples. See You Later is the most kinetically incisive number here, Mela’s rolls and frenetic hardware behind Carlberg’s insistent attack.

Nicknames is a catalogue of what writers have called Monk over the years, the trio dissecting Little Rootie Tootie with a spare pensiveness behind Lichter’s narration. The rhythm section playfully inch their way into Azure Sphere, Carlberg veering in and out of focus: the effect is just enough off-center to be utterly macabre. It’s the best song on the album – one suspects Monk would approve.

The trio close by reinventing Just a Gigolo with an utterly desolate Priya Carlberg vocal, poltergeist accents from the rhythm section and an increasingly dissociative crescendo. Is it too late to call this one of the best jazz albums of 2022?

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