Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Blue Note Stand and a Tour From Perennially Fiery Latin Jazz Icon Eddie Palmieri           

At this point in his career, latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri has nothing left to prove. Is he a NEA Jazz Master yet? If not, let’s get those wheels in motion before Trump and his minions get rid of the NEA altogether. In the meantime, Palmieri has just released a new album, Sabiduria (“wisdom” in Spanish), his first since 2006, streaming at Bandcamp. He’s celebrating that, and his eightieth birthday, with a week at the Blue Note leading a septet starting tonight, Oct 10 through the 15th, with sets at 8 and 10:30 PM. You can get in for thirty bucks – and if you’re not in New York, you can catch him on US tour right afterward if you’re in the right place.

The core of the band on the new album is Joe Locke on vibes, Luques Curtis on bass, Anthony Carrillo on bongos and cowbell, Little Johnny Rivero on congas and Luisito Quintero on timbales, with a long list of special guests – as usual, everybody wants to play with the guy.

It opens with the aptly titled Cuerdas Y Tumbao, a mighty largescale take on a classic, whirlingly celebratory charanga sound. After the string section develops some pretty otherworldly textures, there’s an Alfredo de la Fe violin solo and then a chuggingly energetic one that Palmieri builds to a pretty far-out interlude himself, grinningly half-masked behind the orchestra.

Palmieri famously wanted to be a percussionist but switched to the piano because the competition wasn’t so intense, and the rest is history. That backstory vividly informs Wise Bata Blues, with its punchy, tumbling rhythmic riffage and a similarly kinetic, dancing exchange of solos from trumpet and alto sax, the bandleader choosing his spots with a tongue-in-cheek suspense and a lefthand that hasn’t lost any power over the decades.

Marcus Miller’s snappy bass kicks off the album’s title track, a bizarrely catchy retro 70s mashup of latin soul and psychedelic rock, fueled by Ronnie Cuber’s deliciously acidic baritone sax and David Spinozza’s sunbaked guitar riffage over Palmieri’s dancing incisions. Then the band flips the script with the serpentine guaguanco groove of La Cancha, Locke’s wryly chosen spots contrasting with de la Fe’s stark, insistent solo as the charanga blaze caches fire.

Donald Harrison’s modal sax spirals uneasily in Augustine Parish, a bracingly salsafied blues, up to a hypnotic streetcorner interlude from the percussion crew. Then Palmieri goes solo with Life, a pensively energetic, neoromantically-tinged prelude. The group follows that with the slinky, noir-tinged Samba Do Suenho, Locke’s lingering lines contrasting with Palmieri’s gritty drive – it might be the album’s best track.

Spinal Volt rises from a balmy intro to a blaze of brass and and an energetic exchange of horn solos throughout the band. The Uprising switches back and forth between a casual vocal-and-percussion descarga and a mighty anthem that brings to mind McCoy Tyner’s 70s catalog, with dueling saxes to wind it up.

The steady, Monk-like Coast to Coast slowly brings the sun from behind the clouds, Palmieri and Harrison leading the charge down and then back from a trippy tropical bass-and-percussion break. Driven by Curtis and the bandleader’s relentless attack, the mighty blues shuffle Locked In is the album’s  hardest-hitting number. It winds up with the epic Jibarita Y Su Son, shifting from a  thicket of percussion to a classic salsa dura groove lit up with a fast-forward history of Afro-Cuban beats from the percussion. It’s inspiring to say the least to see a guy Palmieri’s age putting on as wild a party as this one with a group which also includes drummers Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Obed Calvaire, percussionists Xavier Rivera, Iwao Sado and Camilo Molina, saxophonists Louis Fouché and Jeremy Powell, and trumpeters John Walsh and Jonathan Powell.

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October 10, 2017 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tessa Souter’s Beyond the Blue Is Beyond Fun

Tessa Souter is best known as a jazz singer, but she’s also a tremendously compelling composer, with a blend of torchy bluesiness and neoromanticism that often goes deep into noir. Even now, vocal jazz still borrows disproportionately from the past, so Souter’s reliance on her own material immediately sets her apart. That, and her minutely jeweled soprano. Clear, nuanced and glistening, Souter employs it eclectically, shifting in a split-second from misty lustre to moody resonance to neon-lit exuberance, depending on where the lyrics go. Wherever that is, that’s where she is, always with a torch, illuminating everything that comes her way. She also has a subtly quirky sense of humor that reminds of Blossom Dearie in places. She’s at Dizzy’s Club on April 10 at 7:30 and 9:30, leading a quartet with Christian Tamburr on vibraphone, Keita Ogawa on percussion and Boris Kozlov on bass. No doubt they will be playing material from Souter’s excellent new album Beyond the Blue, which is streaming all the way through at her Bandcamp page.

Souter works all the angles on the opening track, Prelude to the Sun, considering every line, from steamy, to shiny, smiling glimmer, Joe Locke’s vibraphone handing off gracefully to Joel Frahm’s alto sax, Billy Drummond adding richly glistening tones on his hardware. She shifts gracefully from boudoir sultriness to unrestrained joy in the absolutely lurid The Lamp Is Low, a richly noir clave tune lowlit by Locke’s marvelously suspenseful lines that Frahm takes even deeper into the shadows. The seductive Dance with Me plays off Steve Kuhn’s hypnotically minimalist pedalpoint piano in the same vein as Jenifer Jackson’s more jazz-oriented material.

Chiaroscuro sets Souter’s silky sostenuto over terse neoromantic piano that updates the Albinoni original by a couple of centuries, Frahm’s richly blues-infused alto adding a casual apprehension.  The most trad tunes here are Darkness of Your Eyes (a Ravel remake) and My Reverie, both nonchalant swing numbers that look back to Ellington and Strayhorn in the 30s – neither would be out of place in the Catherine Russell repertoire. En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor offers a lush, otherworlly take on the famous Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, as lustrous if considerably more stripped-down than the Gil Evans arrangement, David Fink’s echoey, swooping bowed bass contrasting with Locke’s reflecting-pool ambience.

Sunrise mines a subtle early dawn atmosphere, Souter’s gentle vocals over Drummond’s meticulous, marvelous whisperiness as it grows into a jazz waltz. Souter’s cover of Baubles, Bangles and Beads gets a cheerfully sleek treatment, Locke and Kuhn teaming up for an intertwining glimmer as it crescendos out. The title track is a totally noir jazz remake of the Chopin E Minor Prelude, Souter’s distant ache a sort of female counterpart to late 50s Sinatra suicide saloon songcraft.

Noa’s Dream remakes a Schubert serenade as a jazz waltz, Frahm’s precision setting the stage for Locke’s swinging red-neon lyricism. The album winds up hauntingly with Brand New Day, blending slinky clave and French musette, Gary Versace’s jaunty accordion paired up with the vibraphone over a dancing rhythm section. So many vocal jazz albums put the band in the background: this is assuredly not one of them. That this would be a treat to hear purely as instrumentals attests to the intelligence and passion of the songcraft and musicianship; Souter’s voice is the icing on the cake.

April 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gil Evans Centennial Album: A Major Moment in Jazz History

Conductor/arranger Ryan Truesdell launched the Gil Evans Project last year to commemorate the centennial of the most cinematic composer in the history of jazz. To date, Truesdell has staged a series of commemorative big band concerts as well as releasing the album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Given access to the Evans family archive, Truesdell unearthed numerous unrecorded works, ten of which are included here: three compositions and seven arrangements. As history, it’s a fascinating look at the development and crystallization of Evans’ visionary style. As a work of art, it’s classic Gil Evans: deep, rich and relentlessly intense, a titanic achievement and a major moment in jazz history, on par with the discovery of Charles Mingus’ Epitaph. It trivializes any consideration of where this album might stand on a “best albums of the year” list: this is music for eternity.

Evans was the personification of noir. His lush, epic charts refuse to cede defeat even as the shadows creep in – or sweep in, which is more often the case. His influence cannot be understated, although, strange as it may seem, he remains an underrated composer: his best work ranks with Shostakovich, or Ellington, both composers he resembles, often simultaneously. The mammoth orchestra here, totaling 36 musicians, rises to a herculean challenge: some of the playing here is so brilliant as to be career-defining. The high-water marks here are the original works. The first previously unreleased piece, Punjab, was originally intended to be released on the legendary 1964 lp The Individualism of Gil Evans but for some reason never made the cut (maybe because it’s almost fifteen minutes long). The sonics could only be Evans, a spectrum reaching from the darkest depths to the most ethereal highs. The composition hauntingly blends Middle Eastern and Indian themes with energetically jazz and blues-based interludes, a characteristic roller-coaster ride from Dan Weiss’ hypnotic tabla introduction, to screaming woodwind cadenzas, menacing low brass portents and suspensefully whispery washes, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson’s long, allusively modal, spiraling solo accented by Frank Kimbrough’s apprehensively twinkling piano and the devastatingly direct drums of Lewis Nash. As usual, the soloists are interpolated within the framework of the whole: in many cases Evans creates the illusion that there is interplay between the chart, or at least part of the orchestra, and the soloist.

The work that Truesdell – one of the world’s leading Evans scholars – ranks as the composer’s magnum opus is the nineteen-minute-plus triptych Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long. Although versions of these pieces were released separately in the 60s, the arrangement for the three pieces together is from an unrecorded 1971 Berlin concert and it is as massive as Evans ever got (which says a lot). Vibraphonist Joe Locke turns in the performance of a lifetime injecting luridly macabre phrases, alternately stealthy and breathtakingly frantic, over ominous cumulo-nimbus backdrops, murderously mysterious climbs from the depths and incessantly terse, shifting voices within the orchestra. Wilson follows with an equally astonishing, memorable solo, riddled with microtones like a bullet-spattered getaway car. The angst is inescapable, notwithstanding Beethovenesque brass luminosity, a warmly soulful Marshall Gilkes trombone solo, Evans’ signature light/dark contrasts everywhere and an ending that is completely the opposite of everything that foreshadows it.

An equally noir if slightly shorter track here, with a previously unreleased arrangement from that 1971 concert, is Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song. Evans recorded this on the Individualism lp with a band only two-thirds the size of the ensemble here and the result is a mighty, surrealistically chilling, absolutely transcendent sweep. Locke again dazzles and ripples in a centerstage role, this time providing illumination over the sometimes distant, sometimes imminent sturm und drang driven by Nash’s succinct insistence and the lurking bass trombone of George Flynn.

Most of us know The Maids of Cadiz from the Miles Ahead album; the version here dates back seven years earlier to 1950 and Evans’ tenure in Claude Thornhill’s big band. It’s a revealing glimpse of Evans at work in a similar context, it’s almost twice as long and seems about fifty times as big. It’s amazing how Evans would go from the exuberantly ornate tango-jazz of this chart to the plushness – not to mention the terseness – of his version for Miles Davis. This one features prominent, portentous bass from Jay Anderson, a vividly nocturnal Kimbrough solo and a warm, absolutely gorgeous solo out by trumpeter Greg Gisbert.

A handful of tracks also portray Evans the working musician and his approach to some of the more pedestrian fare that paid his rent. How About You, a jaunty, dixieland-flavored Thornhill-era track, shows how he was employing alternate voicings throughout the orchestra just as cleverly as he would later in his career, not to mention the demands those charts made on the musicians. The closing cut, Look to the Rainbow – with vocals by Luciana Souza – first comes across as a relatively generic samba-pop song…but wait til the lush, bittersweet crescendo kicks in as the song winds up! And Evans’ own early 50s composition Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow – which somehow evaded making it onto vinyl despite being in the catalog of three of its era’s most popular big bands – seems a prototype for how he’d take a song from its upbeat origins and transform it into something completely different. This one grows wings but does the opposite of taking flight.

There are two other vocal numbers here, both of them absolutely Lynchian. Smoking My Sad Cigarette, sung with equal parts sadness and sass by Kate McGarry, features a pillowy arrangement that finally morphs into a swaying blues. The oldest track here, Beg Your Pardon, dates from 1946; Wendy Gilles sings it and absolutely knocks it out of the park with her coy, split-second, spot-on melismas. And Who’ll Buy My Violets, a ballad from the Thornhill era, is arguably the most Lynchian track here, Kimbrough doing an unexpected Floyd Cramer impersonation as the orchestra swells behind him and imbues what seems on the surface to be an innocuous pop melody with morose gravitas.

The sonic quality of the album is extraordinary: the care and attention to close-miking and minute detail is meticulous. Although nothing beats the vinyl warmth of a vintage Gil Evans record, this is the most sonically gorgeous digital recording of Evans’ work ever made. Kudos to engineer James Farber and the rest of the orchestra: flutists Henrik Heide and Jesse Han; oboeists Jennifer Christen and Sarah Lewis; bassoonists Ben Baron, Michael Rabinowitz and Alden Banta; multi-reedmen Dave Pietro, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Brian Landrus and Charles Pillow; horn players Adam Unsworth, David Peel and John Craig Hubbard; trumpeters Augie Haas and Laurie Frink; trombonist Ryan Keberle; tuba player Marcus Rojas; guitarists James Chirillo and Romero Lubambo, percussionist Mike Truesdell and tenor violinist Dave Eggar. It would take a book to give due credit for what they’ve accomplished here.

July 17, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tyler Blanton’s New Album Goes Green

It takes chutzpah to use a photo of skunk cabbage as the cover shot for your new cd. That’s what jazz vibraphonist Tyler Blanton did on his new one, Botanic. This may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s cool jazz with a summery, almost jungly ambience, sometimes evoking other types of vegetation, the kind that typically thrive in tropical climates. Blanton displays a remarkably original style: he’s not a thunderous, showy player in the Joe Locke mold. Rather, he crafts a dreamy, hypnotic web out of subtle, intricate textures, abetted by Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax along with Dan Loomis on bass and Jared Schonig on drums (with a couple of tracks anchored by the rhythm section of Aidan Carroll and Richie Barshay).

The title track, a song without words, blends a lot of characteristically interesting touches: a fast triplet pulse, a genial fanfare from Frahm and then a drumline-tinged solo from Schonig as Blanton takes over the rhythm, ratcheting up a mysterious ambience. Foreshadowing switches artfully from straight-up swing to a jazz waltz, sax and vibes working a glistening mesh of echoey broken chords versus staccato sax accents, a latin-tinged drum break and an eerie music-box outro. The prosaically titled Mellow Afternoon turns out to be a quietly lyrical bossa tune, Blanton taking it up once he hits his solo, just enough to break the trance before Frahm comes fluttering down out of the clouds.

The energy level rises as the album winds up. Practically a fugue, Little Two moves from twohanded conversationality to blues, to hypnotic waves of triplets and a muted drum rumble. Hemming and Hawing doesn’t do any of that, actually, working a catchy, soaring hook until Frahm steps in to cool it down, then Blanton runs waterfalls down the scale to pick up the pace again. The album closes with the vintage 60s style Vestibule and its meticulous latticework divided between vibes and sax, Frahm almost jumping out of his shoes with some bop inflections before winding it up on a somewhat triumphant note. It’s a good ipod album, and a good soundtrack for a slow wind back to reality on a Sunday.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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