Lucid Culture


Lush, Kinetic, Imaginatively Purist New Big Band Jazz From Dan Pugach’s Nonet Plus One

How do you get the most bang for your buck, to make a handful of musicians sound like a whole orchestra? Composers and arrangers have been using every trick in the book to do that since the Middle Ages. One guy who’s particularly good at it is drummer/bandleader Dan Pugach, whose retro style harks back to the 60s and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band. Over the past couple of years, Pugach’s Nonet Plus One have refined that concept, gigging all over New York. They’re playing the album release show for their debut album tonight, May 18 at 10 PM at their usual hang, 55 Bar.

The opening track, Brooklyn Blues, is definitely bluesy, but with an irrepressible New Orleans flair. Pugach likes short solos to keep things tight and purposeful: tenor saxophonist Jeremy Powell and trombonist Mike Fahie get gritty and lowdown while Jorn Swart’s piano bubbles up occasionally amid lushly brassy flares from the rest of the group.

Coming Here opens with a comfortable, late-night sweep anchored by Carmen Staaf’s glimmering piano, punctuated by gusts from throughout the band, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen soaring triumphantly and lyrically, Powell more pensive against Staaf’s hypnotic, emphatic attack. The tightly chattering outro, held down by bassist Tamir Shmerling, baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas and bass trombonist Jen Hinkle, is a tasty surprise.

You wouldn’t think a big band version of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene would work, but this group’s not-so-secret weapon, singer Nicole Zuraitis, gives it a Laura Nyro-like intensity as the group punch in and out throughout Pugach’s darkly latin-tinged arrangement. Staaf’s spiraling, serioso chromatics are spot on, Jensen taking that intensity to redline.

Andrew Gould’s optimistic alto sax and David Smith’s catchy, fluttering trumpet solo take centerstage in Zelda, a slow, swaying ballad. Individual and group voices burst in and out of Belo’s Bellow over Pugach’s samba-funk groove, bolstered by Bernardo Aguilar’s pandeiro. Then they reinvent Chick Corea’s Crystal Silence as blustery, arioso tropicalia, Zuraitis’ dramatic vocal flights and Gould’s bluesy alto over Swart’s terse, brooding piano and Pugach’s lush chart and cymbals.

Likewise, Pugach’s piano-based arrangement of Quincy Jones’ Love Dance gives it a welcome organic feel. Zuraitis’ Our Blues gets a powerhouse arrangement to match her wry hokum-inspired lyrics and defiant delivery: “You’re much more clever when you shut your mouth,” she advises. Smith’s sudden crescendo, using Swart’s piano as a launching pad early during the subtle syncopations of Discourse This might be the album’s high point. Keeping a large ensemble together is an awful lot of work, but it’s understandable why a cast of musicians of this caliber would relish playing Pugach’s inventively purist charts.


May 18, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Singularly Memorable, Moody Narrative from Jorn Swart

The thing you have to  know about the central character in Jorn Swart‘s new quasi-narrative album A Day in the Life of Boriz is that Boriz goes around in circles a lot. Sometimes the guy chases his tail. And that’s iintentional. There’s a tragicomic quality to Swart’s moodily sophisticated themes on this quartet session, where the pianist teams up with tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, bassist Scott Colberg and drummer Dan Pugach. The group plays the album release show at 7 PM on Jan 12 at Spectrum.

The album opens with a stroll of sorts, Amsterdam in Grey, its circular themes passing from instrument to instrument, Swart prowling minimalistically and then taking it up to where the sax brings in a more lighthearted contrast to the moody mechanistics underneath. The following track, Fiets, works off a creepily dancing, marionettish, Monk-inflected theme and then makes its way through more than one false ending: Lefkowitz-Brown’s solo, where he defies any reference to the melody before moving slowly and almost deviously back toward the center, is one of the album’s high points.

A Day in the Life of Boriz Pt. 2 sets peevish upper-register sax over Swart’s moody prelude – if only poor Boriz could get rid of the nagging, he’d be ok! Autunn Nostalgia brings back the hint of a stroll, Swart eventually taking it up to a long, nocturnally neoromantic interlude before introducing a full-on nostalgic feel that Pugach lights up with his artfully spacious cymbal work.

After the smoky, reflective ballad The Duke, Monk and More – a mashup of familiar themes –  they return to third-stream terrain for Snurdie Furdie, full of neoromantic disquiet, moving back and forth between variations on an eerie circular phrase and a wistful pastoral theme. Then Swart brings back more Monk allusions with And Never Again, Colberg’s dancing lines disguising the modal menace at the center of the tune,  Pugach again building a slow crescendo that takes everybody but the band by surprise.

The strongest tune here – the hit single, if you want to call it that – is Sara, a steady, moody jazz waltz, Swart keeping it enigmatic and resisting any kind of resolution until the very end. A Day in the Life of Boriz Pt. 1 maintains the somber mood, Lefkowitz-Brown’s chromatically-charged spirals against Swart’s darkly glistening classicisms. The album ends with a darkly spacious miniature. Throughout these tunes, Swart reveals an individaulistic voice and a welcome tendency not to shy away from darkness. Although on a couple of the tracks here, the endlessly looping phrases get close to overkill point- or is that just part of the narrative, poor Boriz stuck on the treadmill?

January 5, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment