Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hot Swing Jazz on a Cool Spring Night at Drom

A big ‘ooooh” went through the crowd when arranger/conductor David Berger announced Juan Tizol’s Casablanca, the noir cha-cha classic that turned out to be the high point of a dynamic opening set by his blazing Sultans of Swing Big Band at Drom last night. Berger is a founding member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: this gig, staged by the New York Hot Jazz Festival folks, gave him a chance to air out this stormy, allusively chromatic showstopper along with his other purist but inventive arrangements of swing tunes both popular and obscure.

Emcee Will Friedwald explained that everybody was there to celebrate the birthday of the “godfather of lindy hop,” Frankie Manning, the dance leader widely credited with springboarding the 90s swing revival here in Manhattan and around the world as well. Swing jazz was and will always be for dancers, but this was a concert for the listener too. There were at least as many people chlilling on the sidelines as there were on the floor, maybe more.

All evening, solos percolated throughout the band, individual members pairing off song by song until pretty much everybody got a few bars apiece. They kicked things off with a Mack the Knife-ish original that started out balmy, got brassy and then featured some neat syncopation between brass and reeds. A midtempo swing version of Happy Days Are Here Again, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s theme song, was next. “Maybe not,” Berger admitted. “Maybe later,” one of the sax section clarified.

Jelly Roll Morton’s Someday, Sweetheart had a jaunty Dan Block clarinet solo that gave way to suave trombone, and then Mark Hynes’ bubbling tenor sax. One of the clarinetists sang an opiated take of  Louis Jordan’s Knock Me a Kiss, lit up with another bustling Hynes tenor solo.

Berger explained away his stab at making swing jazz out the old early 1900s standard By the Light of the Silvery Moon as sarcastic: if a little tongue-in-cheek, it turned out to be fetching despite itself, with some pretty hip harmonies in the high reeds and brass, exchanges of bars throughout the band and a genial trombone solo. A little later they made a gorgeously lowlit, lush wee-hours swing ballad out of the old Scottish folk song Mighty Like a Rose, with a deliciously moody low brass arrangement: it turned into a dynamic feature for baritone sax.

Zoot Sims’ The Red Door got a lush snowstorm of drums, a brightly purposeful tenor sax solo and a bit of a bubbly one from bassist Jennifer Vincent – it was good to hear her amply amped in the mix, something that you can’t necessarily expect from the four string at a big band gig.

A breathtaking, uneasily carnivalesque take of Al Cohn’s Take Four was packed with brief, out-of-breath conversational phrases. A Neal Hefti number – “the swinginest chart ever,” Berger enthused – turned into a hopped-up vehicle for more baritone sax as well as the drums’ rolling, tumbling attack.

Then guest singer Hetty Kate, fresh off the plane from Australia, joined the band and launched into a coy, slinky take of Them There Eyes. She’s the real deal: she sings in character, every number different from the last one (you’d be surprised how many singers don’t do that), can bend a blue note any which way and make you smile or smirk or furrow your brow along with her.

You’re Too Marvelous for Words, with its simmering sophistication and surprisingly stark, bluesy trombone solo, contrasted with the bitingly brassy, sarcastic kissoff anthem A Fine Romance. And then channeled brittle hope and expectation in Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On. The band closed with an irrepressible dixieland flair.

The New York Hot Jazz Festival’s next big production is at Central Park Summerstage on July 1 starting at 5 PM with chanteuse Aurora Nealand, charming, female-fronted cosmopolitan swing crew Avalon Jazz Band and NYC’s arguably finest oldtime swing band Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks,

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May 27, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crooner Todd Londagin Channels Purist Oldschool Style on His New Album

Todd Londagin plays the small room at Rockwood Music Hall Monday night, January 6 at midnight with his band. Who the hell goes out on a Monday night at midnight ? Professionals. That’s how it used to be, anyway, before the permanent-tourist class took over the Lower East Side. So whatever the crowd turns out to be, you can count on the tapdancing trombonist/crooner to school them with a vastly more entertaining, amusingly refined set than this neighborhood typically sees in these grimly gentrified days.

Londagin also has a new album out, titled Look Out for Love. How does his very visual, very audience-interactive m.o. translate in the studio? Does his buttermilk tenor still come across as deviously as it does when you can see the gleam in his eye? It would seem so. The album is a quintet session with Matt Ray on piano, Pete Smith on guitar, Jennifer Vincent on bass and David Berger on drums, Londagin accentuating vocals rather than his nonchalantly excellent trombone work. Songwise, other than the fantastic opening and closing cuts – the latter a signature Londagin set piece – there’s nothing unexpected. He and the band keep things short and sweet, with a nod to the material’s 78 RPM origins and Londagin’s tenure as one of the original hot jazz rejuvenators in the Flying Neutrinos.

The stride piano-infused title track has Londagin playing up the clever wordplay for all it’s worth: “Stay close to the bank/That river is flowing right into a tank….you’re liable to amble right into a noose.” After a brief guitar break, it’s over in barely two minutes. Then they give Bye Bye Baby a matter-of-fact swing with incisive cameos from the whole band.  Londagin opens his briskly shuffling take of Some of These Days with a squirrelly muted solo trombone solo, then works the corners of the vocal line with blue notes, Smith adding droll chicken-scratch voicings, Ray delivering a scrambling ragtime-tinged solo.

Brazil gets a wonderfully precise guitar-and-voice first verse, droll latin mimimalisms from the piano and clear-eyed vocal harmonies from Cocktail Angst frontwoman Toby Williams over Berger’s careful yet carefree brushwork. I Can’t Help It also gets an understatedly Brazilian-inflected treatment, while Londagin’s calm delivery makes a striking contrast with Ray’s unaffectedly haunting glimmer on I Concentrate on You.

Long Ago and Far Away is Londagin at top of his game both as smooth crooner and genially bluesy trombonist, a vibe he maintains on a suavely jaunty take of Pennies from Heaven. The warm, wine-buzzed wee hours version of You Go to My Head is the slowest thing here; the album ends with Londagin’s big crowd-pleaser Bust the Windows, one of the most casual revenge songs ever written. Interestingly, this version doesn’t have the funk or the boisterousness that he often imbues it with onstage – it has the suspicious feel of a pop parody, Londagin delivering the punchline with the same deadpan verve as the guy knocking out the glass from his deceitful girlfriend’s car.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Gaida at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 5/7/10

Syrian/American chanteuse Gaida’s new album Levantine Indulgence made a big splash in Middle Eastern music circles when it came out in March. Last night’s show made believers out of a largely local crowd that didn’t know what to make of her for the first few songs, but by about halfway through she had them dancing, clapping along and responding with an uninhibited joy. She’s a star on the way up. Fairouz is her big influence, but like Fairouz she doesn’t limit herself to one style – she’s taking emotion-drenched Middle Eastern art-song and pushing the envelope with it. Backed by a shapeshifting sextet including jazzy pianist George Dulin, upright bassist Jennifer Vincent (also of Pam Fleming’s all-female quartet) and acoustic guitarist Arturo Martinez along with sensationally good oud, percussion and buzuq players, Gaida delivered the songs in a crystalline high soprano that ranged from disarmingly coy to wrenchingly intense.

They started out with a jazz feel, sort of a habibi blues with distant echoes of Fairouz, a pensive story of unrequited love backed by just piano, guitar and bass. Gaida brought in the whole band for a swaying version of the levantine bossa nova of Illak Shi, taking the first of several vocalese improvisations with a melismatic attack that was as nuanced as it was poignant and on this song, downright heartwrenching.

A slow buzuq taqsim led into the slinky levantine anthem Dream, another cut from the new album, followed by the sly, metaphorically laden Almaya, the tale of a guy following a girl carrying her full bucket home from the village well. A couple of the songs had distinct latin tinges: an old Lebanese number from 1950 featuring some eerie, distantly glimmering piano from Dulin that wound up with understated menace as the outro wound down to just piano and guitar, and a scurrying, tangoish shuffle featuring another intense vocalese interlude. They also debuted a hypnotic, pensive new song written in rehearsal a couple of days before, frenetic buzuq trading off artfully versus casually strummed guitar and then vice versa. They wound up the set on a high note with a brisk, bouncy Yemeni song, the serpentine, anthemic Ammar (another standout track on the new cd) and encored with a standard that made yet another showcase for Gaida’s matter-of-factly plaintive, resonant vocal presence.The crowd wanted more but didn’t get it – and then joined the line for the cd table.

May 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment