Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic Reinvented

This is the kind of group we like best – modestly titled but ambitious and very good at what they do. The Westchester Jazz Orchestra, who are in fact a conglomerate of A-list New York players, like to muscle up new arrangements of old classics, from Coltrane, to Dizzy, to Motown: their latest, a brand-new big band version of Herbie Hancock’s 1965 Maiden Voyage Suite, proves to be every bit worth the titanic effort it obviously took to create it. Hancock turned 70 this past year. No doubt he’d be proud not only to see how well his original has held up, but how inspiring it’s been to this large cast of characters, especially considering that they’ve added four relatively brief transitional passages – including a tantalizing, suspenseful conclusion to bring the suite full circle – which interpolate many of Hancock’s motifs. Ironically, the charts often take the tunes back in time to a late 50s milieu, especially when there’s a Cuban rhythm, a noirish, Mingus-esque crescendo or a bracingly cinematic Cal Tjader-esque moment. Conductor Mike Holober, along with Pete McGuinness, the group’s trumpeter Tony Kladeck and saxophonist Jay Brandford came up with the new charts. The rest of the ensemble includes David Brandom on soprano sax; Jason Rigby and Ralph Lalama on tenor sax; Ed Xiques on baritone sax; Jim Rotondi, Craig Johnson and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorns; Larry Farrell, Keith O’Quinn and Bruce Eidem on trombone, George Flynn on bass trombone; Ted Rosenthal on piano; Harvie S. on bass, and Andy Watson on drums.

The prologue sets the stage, a somewhat murky ocean port scenario that segues up into the title track, understating its slinky pulse until Watson returns with a clave beat as it winds down. Before that, this eleven-minute monster gives Brandom the chance to flip the script from cheery to serioso, then Stamm foreshadows the intensity to an even greater degree. They segue again into Eye of the Hurricane, the heft of the charts powerfully enhancing its rhythmic insistence: Rigby follows Brandom’s tangent from the preceding track, Stamm swings it with the bass and Rosenthal gets to take it mysterious all by himself.

Little One stays closest to the original, with its series of wary alternating voices, a warm Farrell trombone solo over just the rhythm section and a beefed-up jazz waltz as the orchestra rises mightily. They follow it with a brief interlude that hints at the Caribbean. Survival of the Fittest, expanded into two parts here, gives Rotondi the chance to go completely out into the stratosphere with some lightning swirls and Rigby follows in the same vein on the second section, the big chase leading to the album’s most deliciously wailing crescendo. Dolphin Dance is the one that everybody covers, and both Lalama and Rotondi get to go deeply and thoughtfully into it, the trumpet shifting the mood rather dramatically from lush to wary – its final section, as the entire ensemble carries the melody, is richly satisfying. And the new Epilogue adds a neat suspenseful element to wind up an extremely original and successful reinterpretation. Spin this and you’re going to get a lot of “can you play that one again”‘ – and maybe a few “can we hear the original too”‘s.

November 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organist Jared Gold Wraps up a Diverse, Intense Album

Jared Gold’s new B3 organ jazz album All Wrapped Up may not be the last thing you would expect, but it’s different. Before we get into this, let’s establish the fact that the world would be a much less enjoyable place without the B3 grooves of Lonnie Smith, Jimmy McGriff, the late Jimmy Smith and of course James Brown, who in case you didn’t know, first got an appetite for funk when playing this kind of stuff. Gold’s previous album Out of Line continued that great tradition: this is a lot more stylistically diverse. Once in awhile Gold will slip in a piano voicing; he’s also the bad cop here, bringing on the night when there’s too much sunshine. In addition to a couple of the usual grooves, the band also does a couple of swing tunes, slinks into noir mode and explores the fringes of Sao Paolo and New Orleans. Gold has a great cast behind him: Ralph Bowen on saxes, Jim Rotondi on trumpet and Quincy Davis on drums. The compositions are all originals: everyone in the band contributes.

The first cut, My Sentiments exactly works a pretty traditional shuffle groove and a triumphant horn hook, Bowen and Rotondi spinning off bright, bluesy eighth-note runs. A vivid swing tune, Get Out of My Sandbox has Bowen artfully playing off a descending progression as Davis adds rumble and crash, Rotondi getting to the point much more quickly with some scurrying downward chromatics. Gold messes with the tempo: if Keith Emerson wasn’t so hell-bent on showing off, he might have sounded something like this. Piece of Mind, by Davis, introduces a casually catchy, upbeat swing tune afloat on Bowen’s melismas, Davis varying his tread from nimble to stomping, with an intense, animated group conversation out of a pianistic Gold solo.

Midnight Snack, by Bowen shoots for nocturnal and noirish quickly – a nonchalantly crescendoing sax solo goes gritty, Rotondi’s insistent glissandos heighten the tension and Gold pushes him as he takes it up. And then the organ morphs it into a moody jazz waltz. Dark Blue, by Rotondi, brings it further down into the underworld, a slow slinky blues ballad with Taxi Driver ambience. Gold’s biting staccato righthand adds neon glimmer in the shadows; the whole band takes it up to a wailing, somewhat tongue-in-cheek crescendo.

Mama Said starts out as a jaunty New Orleans strut and ends up as a crime movie theme, Davis and Gold again working in tandem to boost the suspense, the organ eventually taking it down and then matter-of-factly back up in a vintage Quincy Jones vein. They follow with Suadades, a deceptively creepy, languid number, again with matter-of-factly impactful, ambling mysterioso ambience from the organ and drums, Bowen bringing a rare gentle balminess. They close the album going back to the funk, if not completely all the way, with Just a Suggestion, a lauching pad for Bowen’s on-and-off-kilter, weaving lines and Gold’s Memphis allusions. There’s an awful lot going on here: while it takes a lot of time to get to know this, stick with it, it’s all good. It’s out now on Posi-Tone; Gold is at the Fat Cat on May 20 at 10:30 with a quintet.

May 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trumpeter Jim Rotondi’s Third Album Doesn’t Mess Around

Trumpeter and Ray Charles alum Jim Rotondi’s new album 1000 Rainbows is a brisk, no-nonsense romp through a mix of strong, memorable themes that an inspired cast – Joe Locke on vibraphone, Danny Grissett on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Bill Stewart on drums – lock onto and charge through with gusto. The opening track, Bizarro World moves from a rumble to a scamper and back and then fades out. A cover of the Beatles’ We Can Work It Out is completely disguised until the verse kicks in, the band messing with the time signature – it would be cool to see what they could do with Penny Lane. Locke takes a long chilly glasses-clinking solo, Rotondi takes his time and goes a little bluesy, then takes it up for Grissett to chill it out again.

An original, One for Felix has Rotondi opening it pensively, then Locke comes slinking in and has the room spinning in seconds flat, Grissett following in a similar vein. The title track, a Bobby Montgomery composition, has piano and bass locking into a hypnotic bossa-tinged groove, Rotondi in tandem with the vibes and then taking a couple of absolutely gorgeous strolls down to the lower registers followed by a pointillistic Locke excursion. Locke’s composition Crescent Street isn’t a New Orleans piece but instead a straight-up swing joint that motors along with some potently rapidfire playing by its author, Rotondi taking his energy level up as well. A bluesy One for My Baby-style ballad, Born to Be Blue gives Rotondi a long, comfortable and expressive solo followed with a wink and a grin by Grissett, who eventually sounds “last call,” Rotondi returning for one more after a long time at the bar. There are also two scampering swing numbers: Rotondi’s Gravitude, where Mori and Grissett push the beat as hard and fast as they can without leaving the rest of the crew in the dust, and an ebulliently bustling take on Bill Mobley’s 49th St. as well as the impressively vivid, almost rubato Not Like That, a conversation between Rotondi’s wistful horn and Locke’s otherworldly, reverberating chords. The album is out now on Posi-Tone. Rotondi’s next NYC appearance is a two-night stand with his quartet featuring Antonio Hart at Smoke on Sept. 3 and 4 at 8 PM.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Peppe Merolla – Stick with Me

Jazz falls into a lot of categories: boudoir jazz, solace-after-a-rough-day jazz, late night sleepy jazz, drunk jazz, fake jazz. Drummer Peppe Merolla’s debut as a bandleader, Stick with Me, is party jazz. It’s the kind of album you can actually put on repeat and not get sick of and it’s our favorite so far this year. Tunes leap from the grooves (ok, the, um, bitmap) of this one with a joyous exuberance that occasionally mellows out into warmly expansive reflection, contentment with a job well done. Merolla is a no-nonsense player with considerable wit, and the tone he sets is contagious. They’re off with a genial rumble from the toms and a characteristically playful yet ethereal Steve Turre shell motif into a modified latin groove (a vibe they’ll bring back again and again here) with casually blazing solos from Jim Rotondi’s trumpet and Turre’s trombone, tenor player John Farnsworth offhandedly quoting Trane, Mike LeDonne (on piano here) introducing some otherworldly tones before joining in the bounce. The fun continues on Ferris Wheel (a tongue-in-cheek title for sure – Bumper Cars would be more like it) with an insistent New Orleans horn riff, a buoyant Farnsworth solo and speeds up as Lee Smith walks the bass and the trombone plays deadpan staccato. A second consecutive Farnsworth tune, Junior, swings genially with a cinematic 70s New York flair, right down to LeDonne’s judiciously summery Rhodes piano. Yet another Farnsworth track builds from pensive, Coltrane-style majesty to irrepressible swing. And the everybody’s-invited after-hours vibe of their version of Willie Nelson’s  Crazy has the melody making the rounds of the band with a joyous directness and simplicity before more contemplative turns from everybody.

There’s also the deliriously circling latin jazz of Mozzin’ (yet another tasty Farnsworth tune), the snaky Marbella with its characteristically boisterous, tuneful Turre trombone, the vividly anthemic Princess of the Mountain and the spiritedly bluesy, high-energy Bud Powell homage One for Bud, a counterintuitive showcase for horns rather than the piano. The small handful of solos Merolla takes here actually sound composed, with a definite trajectory and a punch line. Put this on when the party’s been going for a few hours and soon even your “I hate music that doesn’t have singing” crowd will be humming along. It may be only February, but this is one is likely to end up on a lot of best-of lists this year. And it’s also reason to look forward to what Farnsworth may have up his sleeve next time out.

Merolla has an interesting backstory. A drummer from the age of five, he toured with his parents, the actors Gino Morelli and Tina Barone. After opening for Sinatra at a New York City concert, Sinatra was so impressed that he re-christened the teenage Merolla as “Little Joe” and arranged a three-album record deal for him.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments