Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Transcendent Mingus Big Band Show to Start Their Weekend at the Jazz Standard

Ever the advocate for the next generation of jazz greats, Sue Mingus took the bandstand briefly midway through the Mingus Big Band’s sold-out show last night at the Jazz Standard to encourage the audience to visit Manhattan School of Music today. From 1 to 5 PM, members of the three Mingus repertory ensembles are giving free seminars for the benefit of participants in this year’s Mingus high school competition, and the public is welcome to attend as well, “If that sort of thing interests you,” as she put it. If you’d rather see this band itself, they’re playing an all-too-rare Jazz Standard weekend stand through this Sunday, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM: as usual at this venue, early arrival and/or reservations are very highly encouraged.

The band was transcendent, as usual: explosive and pretty relentlessly intense, but also brimming with good humor that spilled over abundantly in just the right places. On one hand, that’s to be expected given the depth of the Mingus catalog (and this band’s Grammy win for the live album they made here as 2008 turned into 2009). On the other, it’s easy to take these groups for granted, since one of them is always here at the Jazz Standard every Monday. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber hollered to his bandmates as he launched into an irrepressibly romping stop-time solo passage early on in E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too while they waited with bated breath to leap back in. Moanin’, which closed the night’s first set, was a real barn-burner, Scott Robinson matter-of-factly setting up a blistering charge from fellow tenorist Wayne Escoffery. The band also rampaged through Slippers – a relatively rare tune in the band’s repertoire, played especially for the high school contingent who’ll be doing it over the weekend – with drummer Adam Cruz taking it down to a noir suspense with his solo midway through, working it expertly from nonchalant clave, to a hypnotically tribal rumble, to a crescendo that reverted to wild abandon.

The highlight of the night was another infrequent choice, Sue’s Changes, a wry, wickedly insightful and eventually tender tribute from the composer to his mercurial, irrepressibly energetic, reliably surprising wife. After the band had done a first pass through the song’s endlesss series of metric changes, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy offered a coy smooch with his mouthpiece before going deep into the blues, pianist Jim Ridl channeling a radiant glimmer before the final joyous full ensemble onslaught. A bit later, they began Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love lushly and brightly, but also carefully until Boris Kozlov’s bass solo, part High Romantic, part devious funk – after which point everybody put away any more romantic notions and swung like crazy. It was contagious: stellar and judicious performances from a cast including but not limited to alto saxophonist Alex Foster, trombonist/crooner par excellence Ku’Umba Frank Lacy (who also sang Elvis Costello’s lyrics on the opening number), trombonists Earl McIntyre and Conrad Herwig, and trumpeters Kenny Rampton and Greg Gisbert.

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February 16, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet at 55 Bar, NYC 5/3/09

Fresh off a Japanese tour, composer/educator/horn player Scott Reeves was playing the second of two cd release shows for his quintet’s new one, Shapeshifter, one of the most strikingly beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years.  What proved most interesting to discover was how thoroughly composed the songs are – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no words necessary. As a composer, Reeves writes to the strength of his players, tenor saxist Rich Perry’s thoughtful bluesiness, pianist Jim Ridl’s laserlike sense of darkness, bassist Mike McGuirk’s tirelessly prowling propulsion and drummer Andy Watson’s uncanny, understated feel for shade and surprise. With the new cd being a live recording, the question was how much of it would turn out to be improvised and the answer was not that much. That such a question could only be answered by seeing the band live speaks volumes.

Seated behind the club’s precariously swaying Rhodes instead of an acoustic piano, Ridl adjusted to the reverberating textures and dynamic consistency by leaving plenty of space for the notes to ring out, saving his pyrotechnics for the infrequent, bluesy run down the keys (his playing on acoustic piano on the cd is a feast of nocturnal textures). Reeves himself played with clarity, precision and the kind of exacting rigor you would expect from an academic, frequently utilizing a pitch pedal that allowed him to play chords. They opened with the cd’s darkly metamorphosizing title cut, Reeves’ alto flugelhorn harmonizing with the Rhodes to the point where the sound was a perfect blend, one instrument indistinguishable from the other, then Perry taking a lengthy, balmy excursion before a sparse Rhodes solo as the bass and drums swerved around it. The catchy, Miles Davis-inflected Last Call swung with a buoyant bluesiness before Reeves, now on trombone, introduced a subtly overcast, modal undercurrent.

Reeves went back to flugelhorn for the bustling, rhumba-flavored 3 ‘n 2, followed by a surprisingly casual and comfortable take on the otherwise quite poignant Without a Trace, a showcase for some blazing fingerwork for Ridl. They wrapped up the night’s opening set with a Miles Davis dedication, the Alchemist, a funky track that would be perfectly at home on, say, In a Silent Way. McGuirk paced it with an energetic Ron Carter-ish insistence, Ridl taking charge with an ocean of waves up and down the scale, Reeves and Perry winding up and then down in a bracingly fluttery exchange of riffs. Reeves is not exactly unknown, but underappreciated: jazz fans should discover him. And even if jazz is not your first love, you’ll undoubtedly find his melodies percolating in your brain long after taking in a show.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet – Shapeshifter: Live at Cecil’s

Many years ago, as an expose of the publishing industry, an investigative reporter had his assistant type up a couple of chapters of a bestselling Jerzy Kosinsky novel and then sent it around to several houses. None of them offered a contract, few even looked at it, and the one editor who commented on it mentioned a similarity to Kosinsky but said it was poorly written. Likewise, when this cd came over the transom, all signs pointed to a prank. It has the slightly boomy live room sound common to good-quality bootlegs from the 50s, a couple of tracks fade out rather than ending cold, and the piano is just a hair out of tune (which accidentally enhances the dark glimmer of several of the songs). The arrangements are typically oldschool, the band introducing the head, individual members following with solos. And the compositions are exquisitely melodic. What classic combo from the golden age, circa 1959, could this be? Who might be responsible for that gorgeously nocturnal, vividly impressionistic piano? Wynton Kelly? Not bluesy enough. Dave Brubeck, at his late-50s apex? No, too bluesy. The rhythm section has taste and swing, the tenor player doesn’t waste a single note and the trumpeter plays with a Miles Davis-like clarity. Except that’s not a trumpet. As with the original Kind of Blue, could this have been recorded at the wrong speed? And who’s trying to pull a fast one here?

 

Answer: nobody. Scott Reeves is a highly regarded composer and educator at the CUNY School of Music and Juilliard who’s played with several high-profile acts in addition to leading his own ensembles. What he’s playing on seven of the nine tracks here is an alto flugelhorn, fusing the slower, soulful attack of a trombone with the broader color spectrum of a much smaller horn (he also plays his own creation, the alto valve trombone on two cuts). This is his latest cd, and it’s one of the most beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years. Reeves credits Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata as inspiration for the opening, title track, Jim Ridl’s elliptically mysterioso piano providing an austere backdrop – and absolutely no shelter – for a terse horn arrangement, Rich Perry’s tense, wary tenor and Reeves’ equally terse and startling solos. And then, true to its title, the scene suddenly shifts, the rhythm section scurrying along beneath atmospheric sheets of sound punctuated by Ridl’s incisiveness.

 

The nocturnal glimmer that permeates the album is most vivid and beautiful on the cd’s best cut, the long, almost twelve-minute New Bamboo, a hauntingly modal number stalking along on Mike McGuirk’s ominous bassline and Ridl’s dark, insistent chords, Reeves adding a beautifully lyrical flugelhorn solo. And then the piano makes a long, painstaking attempt to bring some light into the darkness, but you almost know it’s not going to happen. And then it’s over. This is a pantheonic song, one that a whole lot of musicians will be adding to their repertoire once word gets around.

 

The aptly titled Incandescence shares the same hauntedly romantic, after-sunset feel, the horns building the theme in unison over murky, menacing piano as the rhythm pulses, McGuirk adding a plaintive solo. Reeves and Perry conduct a clinic in shadow and shading, and Ridl adds a hauntingly insistent, poignant solo that’s the high point of the entire cd.

 

The album’s other tracks include also the catchy, funky, Miles Davis-inspired The Alchemist; the richly coloristic, pensive Without a Trace, a trio of upbeat, tunefully swinging numbers and a stab at a samba with some evocatively breezy work from Perry (and a beat that stomps rather than sways – easy, guys, this stuff is supposed to be sultry!). Not only is this a great album for jazz fans, it’s a great stealth attack weapon. Like Sketches of Spain, A Love Supreme or the latest JD Allen Trio cd, it’s a way to turn your rock friends on to what you’ve known all along. Reeves is currently on Japanese tour, returning for a gig with this group at 55 Bar on May 3 with sets at 9:30 and 11.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment