Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Concert Review: Felix Lajko and Antal Brasnyo at the Schimmel Center, Pace University, NYC 6/1/09

Were Hungarian violinist Felix Lajko and his violist cohort Antal Brasnyo at Bang on a Can on Sunday? Actually not. Carving out new territory embodying elements of gypsy music, classical, jazz and the avante-garde, they would have fit in well at Sunday’s marathon. In their duo performance, Lajko played lead, Brasnyo’s viola functioning much like a harmonium, creating washes of chords anchoring Lajko’s wild glissandos and stark, rapidfire staccato passages. How much was composed and how much was improvised was hard to tell, other than several false endings after which Lajko would meander mysteriously before winding up with a big crescendo or a sudden, cold stop. A couple of the pieces were straight out of the mid-70s Jean-Luc Ponty songbook, fast two-chord jams where Lajko would cavort with a gypsy dance feel. Another was a straight-up four-chord rock melody with a soaring, upbeat chorus.

Lajko switched to zither on a couple of numbers, Brasnyo maintaining the ambience while his partner picked away frenetically (with the size of the auditorium, it would have been nice if the zither, with virtually no sustain, could have been amplified). After a solo series of variations on a gypsy dance by Lajko, the duo played a capitivatingly morphing number that moved from a vintage soul melody to a tango to a joyous dance before closing with another two-chord jam. Despite the blazing speed of pretty much everything they played, neither musician looked like they broke a sweat. Bang on a Can ought to enlist these guys next year. This show was part of the ongoing Extremely Hungary festival, featuring a diverse series of musical, literary and theatrical events running through the end of the year in both New York and Washington, DC.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion – Not Radio Material

This cd is a rare blend of accessibility and excitement. The title is sarcastic: much of this album is perfect radio material for adventurous noncommercial djs, while some of the compositions are easygoing enough to sneak into a smooth-grooves playlist. Don’t let the F-word scare you off – true to their name, Chicago area Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion play fusion jazz, meaning solos around the horn, interplay between the instruments absent as usual, rhythm straight up, four on the floor. But jazz fans are supposed to be open-minded – and for any fan of string music, with fond memories of the 70s or an ear for Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report, this is a treat. Bandleader Edgar Gabriel, playing electric violin, viola and even electric mandolin, demonstrates virtuoso chops, impressive taste and a whirlwind of styles, backed by a rhythm section of electric and acoustic piano, electric or standup bass and live drums (with this stuff, you never know sometimes). The first cut on the cd is straight-up funk, Gabriel impressively working a horn melody; the second cut is thoughtful and midtempo with a bit of a rhumba feel, featuring a warmly exploratory tenor sax solo by Michael Levin. The fourth track, Mobile is a fiery, percussive, flamenco-fueled number with a bracingly atonal Macedonian edge.

I Knew That, by keyboardist Kevin O’Connell switches the time stamp on mid-40s style swing, Gabriel’s flourishes alternately ambient and bluesy. By contrast, O’Connell’s Blue 7 evokes the cool jazz feel of what Ponty or Stephane Grappelli were doing in the 60s, Stevie Doyle adding an incisive guitar solo from a period ten years down the road over steady, minimalist blues variations. Nose Bleed is the requisite fusion-metal number, Gabriel running his axe through a screechy wall of distortion. The cd’s best cut is Renaissance man, a bouncy dance that blends a Django/Grappelli vibe with klezmer overtones, alternating between lively Gabriel atmospherics and some absolutely spot-on, lickety-split clarinet work by Levin. The only miss here is the third track, a Lite FM vocal number – sung by somebody’s girlfriend maybe? – which has no place on an album this good. Otherwise, there’s plenty for everyone here, proof that there’s plenty of music that can simultaneously be mainstream AND good.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment