Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Haunting Music From Happier Times

While the past year has seen a lot of artists desperately mining their archives for concert recordings in order to maintain some semblance of a performing career, violinist Meg Okura’s Live at the Stone album with her NPO Trio is not one of those releases. This 2016 concert was one of the last at the iconic venue’s original Alphabet City digs before it moved to the New School, only to be shuttered in the lockdown. This particular set – released a couple of years ago and still streaming at Bandcamp – is expansive, klezmer-centric, and despite the energetic interplay between Okura, pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, is rather dark.

As the initial 38-minute improvisation – divided up into six separate sections here – gets underway, Okura and Pilc are at their most orchestral. The violinist plays through a series of effects including delay, loops and massive amounts of reverb. The pianist, for the most part, maintains a glittering High Romantic gravitas.

Pilc echoes Okura’s cascades as she runs them through reverb turned up to the point of slapback. Building a series of builds variations, she’s joined by Newsome, who takes centerstage achingly as Pilc and Okura rustle and rumble underneath.

About three minutes in, Okura introduces the stark, central 19th century klezmer theme, Mark Warshawsky’s Oyfn Pripetchik. Newsome searches longingly with his microtonal washes until Pilc and Okura bring a steady rhythm back, the piano taking over scurrying, pointillistic variations. Then the violin moves to the foreground, leading the music from plaintive and insistent to spare and starry. Newsome’s stark clarinet-like tone, especially in the most somber moment here, fits this music perfectly.

Somber chromatics come front and center and remain there the longest in the fourth segment. Newsome leads the group down into minimalism, Pilc raising the energy with his jackhammer pedalpoint, a bit of a klezmer reel and a brief minor-key ballad without words. Newsome drives the band to a chilling, shivery coda.

There are two other improvisations here. The first, Unkind Gestures, is based on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, is vastly more carefree and jauntily conversational, Pilc’s rumbles and basslines contrasting with Newsome’s keening, harmonically-laced duotones. Okura opens the almost nineteen-minute closing number, Yiddish Mama No Tsuki, with a sizzling klezmer solo, Pilc following with eerie belltones down to what sounds like an altered version of the old standard Mein Yiddishe Mama. Revelry and wry quotes interchange with airy acidity, disorienting clusters, a brooding Newsome solo and surreal blues from Okura and Pilc.

One quibble: not one but two tracks cut off right in the middle of gorgeously melismatic Newsome solos, a real faux pas. People who listen to this kind of music have long attention spans and don’t care how long a track is.

May 14, 2021 Posted by | jazz, klezmer, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tony Moreno Reclaims His Life After the Hurricane with an Epically Tuneful New Album

What do you do when a storm takes everything you own? You buckle down and create a new body of work. That’s what Tony Moreno did. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed his compositions, and drums, and even memorabilia from his famous harpist mother, Nina Dunkel Moreno, the drummer/composer took a monthly residency at 55 Bar and worked up enough new material for an epic new double album, Short Stories, streaming at Spotify. Moreno’s compositions here tend to be on the lavish side, running seven or eight minutes at a clip: this album really feels like a couple of live sets. Uneasily clustering, distantly Lennie Tristano-ish piano is livened by expressive and sometimes explosive playing: Moreno comes off sobered if ultimately none the worse for all the trauma. It’s a chance to hear pianist Jean-Michel Pilc deliver some of his most otherworldly thrilling work and witness tenor saxophone powerhouse Marc Mommaas in unexpectedly rapturous mode alongside lyrical trumpeter Ron Horton, perennially popular bassist Ugonna Okegwo and Moreno swinging behind his new drumkit. Moreno and his group are back at 55 Bar this Wednesday, Dec 15 at 7 PM.

Moreno got a start on piano as a youngster but became a protege of Elvin Jones – with whom he later would share a stage, albeit on piano. Moreno is more chill than his mentor here, propelling the tunes with equal parts fire and finesse, drums up enough in the mix to capture his nuances without distracting from the whole. The album’s opening number, Foxy Trot (titles are not Moreno’s forte) opens with Pilc’s eerie, Mompou-esque belltones and quickly rises to a briskly floating swing with high-voltage solos from both Mommaas and Horton. By contrast, Mommaas’ ballad Little One features the saxophonist in rare, airy, delicate mode. The West’s Best juxtaposes Pilc’s Messiaenic gravitas with Horton’s similarly wary lines over Moreno’s elegant tumbles, then follow an increasingly gritty drive fueled by Mommaas and Pilc.

Errol Garner, a shout-out to the pianist, has a richly lingering unease carried by Pilc’s clustering lines and Mommaas’ enigmatically circling phrases. 55 Scotch builds from an acerbically catchy Frank Foster-ish hook to rapidfire swing and a neat handoff from Mommaas to Horton, Pilc playing good cop againt the bandleader’s blockbuster assault. Susan’s Dream is more of a lurking nightmare, through a surreal piano-bass dialogue, Mommass’ haggard solo turning it over to Okegwo’s misterioso ballet. It’s the album’s most harrowing number.

No Blues to You makes for a contrasting, lickety-split feature for Horton that Pilc pushes further into the shadows. The first disc closes with an expansively lush take of Ellington’s C Jam Blues punctuated by the occasional suspenseful pause.

Disc two opens with a similarly tender take of Kenny Wheeler’s Three for D’Reen and its judicious echo phrases. Oh, Henry, Moreno’s magnum opus here, shifts artfully in and out of waltz rhythm, Pilc’s glimmering neoromantic colors front and center, Horton’s blazing solo followed by an unexpectedly nebulous one from Mommaas and a triumphantly flickering outro. The band follows Grovelling, a lengthy, shapeshifting Horton vehicle, with the first of two versions of El Rey, a serpentine, majestic flamenco-jazz gem with that recalls Chano Dominguez.

M.O. follows a counterintuitive path downward from a bright opening into a spacious swing shuffle with solos all around, Pilc and Moreno each building back toward a big crescendo. Pueblo de Lagrimas is a return to slow, somber, latin-inflected majesty, lowlit by Pilc’s lyrical solo, Horton raising the ante while Moreno prowls and chooses his spots. The album wins up with the second take of El Rey, the king clearly back on top in what was once a very sad city.

December 13, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jean-Michel Pilc’s Essential Combines Great Wit and Great Chops

Jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc’s new live solo album Essential is just out on Motéma, and it’s a match of astonishing chops and playful wit, in fact, one of Pilc’s best creations. A defiant advocate of pure improvisation, the way Pilc takes both original and classic themes, deconstructs them or reconstructs them, all the while making them up on the spot, is extremely entertaining. As he explains, literally everything here is improvised with the exception of one in a series of fascinating miniatures titled Etude-Tableaux – and that one Pilc came up with only a few days before he recorded this concert. The cd version of this album features features not only live concert material but also a video of a special private performance from the two-night stand where this material was recorded.

Utilizing the entirety of the piano’s range, Pilc will occasionally venture beneath the lid and coax timbres directly from the strings themselves. There’s also evidence here of Pilc’s seemingly ambidextrous two-handed approach which on occasion resembles two separate voices, sometimes conversationally, but more often than not has them working virtually independently of one another. Also in full effect is Pilc’s puckish sense of humor. A delightful version of Caravan becomes a game of hide-and-seek, Pilc interjecting seemingly random fragments of the melody amid low, rumbling, pedaled atmospherics or joyous righthand cascades, practically a mashup of the original with an improvisation. Likewise, Pilc artfully skirts the melody of Take the A Train, a wry contrast between low boogie woogie-tinged lefthand and devious flourishes in the right. Someday My Prince Will Come hints at a darkly suspenseful bluesy ballad approach before flying off into the upper registers; by contrast, Pilc takes Chopin’s A Minor Waltz and turns it into a foundation for alternately bracing and warmly consonant lyrical passages, an utterly original repurposing which begins with pain and poignancy but ends on a hopeful note.

Yet the original improvisations are the pieces de resistance. The title track is a thoughtful, methodical blues ballad shaded grey – it’s slow enough that the listener can think along with Pilc and watch how he does it, finally scurrying off before returning to the source. The series of Etudes-Tableaux begin with a somewhat austere boogie, followed by a deliciously bouncy, fractured pop melody with an amusing series of endings; a starlit ballad that opens the door wide on the kind of riveting intensity Pilc can deliver; another that could be Haydn through the prism of Scott Joplin; a contrasting miniature that evokes both Erik Satie and the Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays; and a Brubeck-esque jazz waltz that plays clever rhythmic tricks. There’s also a judicious, expansive version of I Remember You; an eerie music-box take of Scarborough Fair; an arrestingly brooding, compelling Blue in Green, and Mack the Knife, reinvented as a jester.

Pilc is playing a bunch of festivals this summer including Montreal; his next NewYork dates seem to be Aug 30-31 at the Blue Note with Pilc Moutin Hoenig Potter featuring his longtime rhythm section, bassist François Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig, plus saxophonist Chris Potter.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment