Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist Melissa Aldana Takes Her Sound to the Next Level

Unlike a lot of jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana grew up in the idiom. She represents the third generation of a formidable Chilean musical family. She’s gone on record citing her latest album, Back Home, as an example of a more mature sound for her. Major understatement: it’s her breakthrough, the material to match the fearsome chops that put her on the map when she became the first South American and the first woman to win the Thelonious Monk competition six years ago. With her regular rhythm section, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jochen Rueckert, this is her second trio release, streaming at Spotify.

The rhythm section begin Aldana’s opening track, Alegria, with a tightly spinning, springl-loaded rumble as Aldana plays a terse melody overhead and builds methodically toward a carefree, gently triumphant vibe. There’s some defiantly individualistic Sonny Rollins in there, but there’s also the catchy, impactful “jukebox jazz” of JD Allen, as well as a tight, familiar chemistry similar to Allen’s long-running trio. Short, punchy figures and an emphasis on Aldana’s upper registers figure prominently throughout the album.

Before You has a fetching, hey-wait-a-minute-don’t-leave-yet feel over a shifting clave (Aldana wrote it for her boyfriend…awww). Rueckert’s misterioso, stygian cymbals and Menares’ precise, tiptoeing lines amplify the brooding mood of Aldana’s spacious, airy approach throughout Time. The album’s title track is its most trad yet carefree: Aldana has a great sense of humor and that really comes through here. And it’s contagious.

As a writer, Menares is represented by two tracks. The first, Desde La Lluvia is e minimalistic, lyrical jazz waltz where Aldana waits til the third time around before she goes dancing where the clouds used to be, in a bright after-the-rain scenario. Menares opens his other number, En Otro Lugar, with a bit of a solo ghost ballet before Rueckert gets a brisk clave going and Aldana lingers toward the back, choosing her spots: you can hear some of the considered yet fearlessly warped tones of an old mentor, George Garzone in there.

Rueckert brings two numbers to the album. Obstacles, the first, anchors judiciously considered variations on its hook in subtle rhythmic shifts, building to a floating swing capped off with a wryly galloping drum solo. Menares loops a cachy riff as Servant shifts in an out of a spinning triplet drive, Aldana once again hanging back with an austere, bluesy purism. The lone cover here is a sparse, misty, wee-hours bass-and-sax take of the Kurt Weill/George Gershwin tune My Ship.

In an era where so many players bleat and blow like a four-year-old with a jar of bubble soap, Aldana’s restraint and sense of purpose here are a breath of fresh air.

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March 23, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist Melissa Aldana Brings Her Purposeful Trio Sound to Harlem

Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads what you could call two thirds of her Crash Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert taking over the drum chair for Francisco Mela, Friday and Saturday night, May 22-23 at Minton’s uptown with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. As is generally the case here, your best bet is to grab a seat at the bar, considerably cheaper – $25 – than at the tables, which will probably be full anyway since the place is a big weekend hangout. If you’ve followed jazz lately, Aldana has been riding a mighty wave of buzz in the wake of some prominent competition victories. A cynic might argue that’s what you have to do if you’re a woman of Chilean extraction trying to make your mark in a field dominated by American men – notwithstanding that she represents a three-generation legacy of prestigious Chilean saxophonists.

Aldana has smoke in her tone and often pushes the upper limits of her axe’s register, no surprise considering that she began her career as a teenage altoist. Although she can fire off febrile Sonny Rollins-inflected blasts of bop when she’s in the mood, more often than not her music is considered and spacious, and the band follows suit. In a trio setting, Menares gets plenty of room to color the music and solo, something Rueckert will fit in well with here. Her most recent trio album, from last year, is on the contemplative side, a mix of melodic, swinging postbop, a small handful of balmy ballads and a couple of detours into south-of-the-border and Brazilian sounds. However, this gig will no doubt feature a lot of new material from Aldana’s forthcoming second Crash Trio album, due out next month. One suspects she’s going to pick up the pace since this place is earning a reputation as a very high-energy room.

May 19, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Charette’s Music for Organ Sextette Takes the B3 to the Next Level

Brian Charette’s an interesting guy. He practices an unorthodox style of kung fu; he writes authoritatively on topics like chord voicings in Messiaen; and he plays the Hammond B3 organ like no other jazz musician. That might be because he was on the fast track to a career in classical music before being sidelined by a severe finger injury. So he went into jazz, and the world is richer for it. Charette employs every inch of his B3 for an unexpectedly diverse, rich sonic spectrum. His compositions are counterintuitive, catchy and clever, but not too clever by half. His latest album, Music for Organ Sextette is cerebral and witty, packed with good tunes and good ideas: it shifts the paradigm as far as carving out a place for the organ in jazz is concerned. The band here is superb and rises to the occasion, with John Ellis taking a turn on bass clarinet, Jay Collins on flute, Joel Frahm on tenor, Mike DiRubbo on alto and Jochen Rueckert on drums.

Bright and ambitious, the opening track, Computer God sets the tone, the organ against punchy punctuation from ensemble horns over a bossa beat that morphs into a vivid dichotomy between wicked chromatic chorus and a tricky, circular, riff-driven verse. Charette’s use of the organ’s highest, most keening tones, along with DiRubbo’s occasional diversion into microtones, adds edge and bite. They follow that with a miniature straight out of Scarlatti, Fugue for Katheleen Anne, and then into the Ex Girlfriend Variations, who if the music is to be believed is a nice girl but she just won’t shut up. It’s a soul song, essentially, building to a nimbly orchestrated thicket of individual voices and New Orleans allusions that threaten to completely fall apart but never do. A study in incessant tempo shifts, Risk disguises a soul/blues tune within all kinds of hijinks: a coy fake fanfare from Frahm, an unselfconscious yelp from Charette and an irresistibly amusing trick ending. The funniest track here is The Elvira Pacifier, a spot-on parody of a device that every Jamaican roots reggae band always overdoes in concert. It gives Rueckert the chance to prove he’s a mighty one-drop player; Frahm acquits himself well at ska, but DiRubbo and Ellis don’t take it seriously at all. As they probably shouldn’t.

Equal Opportunity offers a launching pad for all kinds of dynamic contrasts: shifting use of space, lead-ins stepping all over outros, whispery lows versus blithe highs, Charette and DiRubbo using every inch of their registers. Prayer for an Agnostic proves the band just as adept at a slow, sweet 6/8 gospel groove, lit up by a spiraling Collins solo; Late Night TV explores a wry, sometimes tongue-in-cheek go-go vibe and then hits unexpectedly joyous heights. French Birds, a slyly polyrhythmic swing tune, features all kinds of nimble accents from Rueckert and reaches for noir ambience, followed by the creepiest track here, Mode for Sean Wayland, jagged funk juxtaposed against eerie, otherworldly interludes that make psychedelia out of big Messiaenesque block chords. The album ends with Tambourine, the album’s one funky “Chicken Shack” moment that takes a jaunty turn in a Booker T direction. It’s a fun ride, and will make new believers of jazz fans who might mistakenly think that all B3 grooves are created equal.

May 24, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dred Scott Quartet Get Devious at Smalls

Iconoclastic jazz pianist Dred Scott’s Tuesday midnight residency at Rockwood Music Hall has become a New York legend – and it’s still going on every week. Last Wednesday he and his trio stole away for a quartet gig at Smalls with Ratdog’s Kenny Brooks on tenor sax, a treat for anyone daunted by the prospect of the F train, or any train for that matter, in the wee hours. It was a characteristically rich mix of devious fun and ferocious chops. Scott’s deadpan cool is something of a front: there’s a pretty much unlimited supply of power and joy in his playing, to go along with the clever, occasionally snide humor and the “hmmm, let’s see if anybody in the house gets this” japes. The set was a characteristically memorable mix of tunes. A swinging, Monk-ish new number, Scott alluded, took a cue from Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6-5000: at the end of the verse, the band all shouted, “Sixty-six, six!” The melody was a little creepy but short of satanic, bassist Ben Rubin taking the first solo, reaching for the rafters quickly. Either Scott’s humor is contagious, or he’s found a fellow traveler, the two throwing “are you ready” elbows at each other until Scott took it down to a noir, modal groove, finally hammering against drummer Jochen Rueckert’s pulsing cymbals. From there, they took it absolutely noir with another modal number where Scott worked his way in lyrically, sprinting through a maze of cascades to where Rubin shifted from a boogie bass solo into some bracing swoops. Another Scott tune was gorgeous and plaintive in a Brubeck-meets-Frisell, Americana-tinged vein and served as the springboard for the best solo of the night, from Scott, apprehensively bending and twisting against the rhythm section’s one-two-three assault.

A number by Cleveland saxophonist Ernie Krivda – “The Mad Hungarian – no, that was Al Hrabosky,” Scott mused – had Brooks playing amiably against a cyclical Joe Zawinul-esque melody, Rueckert and then Rubin taking it into jaunty bluesfunk territory against Scott’s big block chords and Brooks’ soulfully nocturnal lines. They wound up the set with what sounded like a couple of seriously altered standards, the first shifting back and forth to doubletime, Scott practically spinning on his bench with a blistering series of torrents, the second with a bustling Weather Report-gone-acoustic vibe where Rueckert wouldn’t let Scott tack on an ending until he was done with an amusing series of crescendos. By now, everybody was in on the fun. And that was just the first set. All this can be streamed at the Smalls site, since they archive all the shows there.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment