Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Endea Owens Brings Her Jazz Party to Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, bassist Endea Owens emerged from behind the audience and earned a spontantous clapalong from the crowd on a brisk version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, getting a growly, funky tone out of her shiny beige Fender Jazz model. The band simmered behind her: Jonathan Thomas on Rhodes, Shenel Johns and Jay Ward on vocals, and a three-piece horn section of Jeffrey Miller on trombone, Irwin Hall on tenor sax and Josh Evans on trumpet. What was coolest was how Owens stuck with tightly coiling riffs and steady walks instead of the slaphappy garbage some four-string people fall into when they plug in.

“The next song is an original composition called Feel Good. Before we get started, I just want to tell you why I wrote it.” The suspense was killing. “I wrote it because I wanted to feel good!” So much for awkward confessions in front of an audience.

Switching to upright, Owens gave her tune the same kind of spring-loaded, riff-driven groove, even during a long crescendoing solo, Evans choosing his spots to blast out of drummer EJ Strickland’s pummeling swing. Owens’ debut album Feel Good Music is due out later this month: truth in advertising.

Johns returned to ease her way airily into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the horns slowly rising to a jaunty series of dixieland-tinged licks. Hall matched the cheer of the original in an extended break; Miller chose his spots with a bluesy gravitas. When Johns got to “War is not the answer,” that’s where she really picked it up.

Owens is doing the same thing with soul music that the golden age jazz artists did with showtunes. “Feel good music means thinking about going back home – you’re going to hear a lot of Motown tonight,” the native Detroiter grinned. She likes Donny Hathaway: inspired by a good soundcheck, she scrapped her arrangement of Someday We’ll All Be Free for a simple, summery piano/vocal duet by Thomas and Ward.

Owens wrote For the Brothers in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, but now she sees her resolutely bouncy triplet funk number as something for everybody. “A lot of my friends went through troubles with police brutality…and just being slighted in life, It takes all of us, it doesn’t just take a song, it takes effort from all of us,” she reminded. Triggered by Thomas’ gospel solo, the crowd engaged themselves again.

Owens sent the whole band away for a solo piece, Yesterdays, in D minor, her favorite key as a budding bassist. It was a knockout: gritty and spacious to begin, then a defiant strut spiced with clenched-teeth eighth-notes and an unexpectedly somber ending. The band came back up for a bluesy ba-BUMP take of Can’t Get Next to You, echoed by a Johns/Owens duet of Quincy Jones’ Celie’s Blues.

A percolating minor jump blues also sizzled with Thomas’ sabretoothed modalities and Owens’ jubilantly striding lines. Owens and Johns tried teaching the audience the electric slide, without much luck. Then she and the band ran off to Dizzy’s Club a few blocks south to play a late-night set, where she’ll be through this Saturday night, Feb 15 at 11:30 PM for a measly $10. The mostly-weekly Thursday night free concert series at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues on Feb 20 at 7:30 PM with a high-voltage oldschool salsa dura dance party featuring longtime Tito Puente sideman John “Dandy” Rodriguez’s Dream Team band. Get there early if you’re going.

February 14, 2020 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wild Night at Smalls with Trombone Legend Frank Lacy

Trombonist/singer Frank Lacy is the extrovert star of the Mingus bands. He also leads his own groups. His latest album, Live at Smalls captures him with an inspired, straight-ahead postbop band – Josh Evans on trumpet, Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, Theo Hill on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass and Kush Abadey, this unit’s not-so-secret weapon, on drums – on parts of two hot nights in mid-October, 2012 on their home turf. Lacy can be much more avant garde than he is here: this is a showcase for lively interplay, pitch-and-follow and blazing gutbucket jazz-lounge entertainment. You can feel the heat: Ben Rubin’s engineering on this record puts you right there in the room. They celebrate the album’s release at the club on May 6 at 10:30 PM; cover is $20 which includes a beverage.

For Lacy, this is more of a showcase for leading a band than it is for blazing solos (after all, he can do that anytime he wants). And he’s a generous leader: the two most electrifying solos on the album belong to Evans – choosing his spots up to a series of wickedly rapidfire spirals on a steady, briskly strolling take of Charles Fambrough’s Alicia – and Dillard, soaring and sliding and throwing in some shivery doublestops on soprano sax on Lacy’s own gospel-infleced Spirit Monitor. Lacy also gives a characteristically witty clinic in how to pull the band out of a lull a little earlier during that tune.

Lacy’s also a distinctive singer, with a gritty falsetto that’s just as powerful as his lower register. It’s too bad that there’s only one vocal number here, Carolyn’s Dance, a series of long crescendos for the band members as Abadey rides the traps with all sorts of neat, unexpected jabs and crashes.

Dilllard’s boisterous bluesiness contrasts with Lacy’s more judicious attack on the summery, funky sway of Joe Bonner’s Sunbath. Lacy’s opening track, Stranded, works a catchy, chromatically-charged altered latin groove up to a tireless swing, a launching pad for everybody in the band. They follow that with a lustrous take of George Cables’ bossa-tinged Think on Me. They wind up the album with a good choice of closer, Freddie Hubbard’s The Intrepid Fox where Evans predictably gets called on to deliver the firepower and makes it look easy as the band swings it breathlessly. It’s surprising that more venues don’t do what Smalls does, recording all their shows (they have a subscription service for that) and releasing the creme de la creme on their Smalls Live label. Then again, Smalls takes the idea of community more seriously than most venues.

May 1, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project Comes Together Mightily

If the names Elvin, Max, Philly Joe, or Tony Williams mean anything to you, you’ll love this album. It’s yet another first-class new B3 jazz record that breaks the mold. Drummer Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project’s new Outer Reaches album was originally conceived as a joint tribute to Larry Young, Woody Shaw and their iconic 1965 Unity album , but morphed into something more original. It’s melodic jazz with strong hooks, Peterson – one of the most consistently interesting and forceful drummers around, and also a strong composer – joined by Josh Evans on trumpet, Jovan Alexandre on tenor and Pat Bianchi on organ. Much as Peterson is a powerful, propulsive presence, he’s also a colorist, alternating between a rumble and a whisper, sometimes simultaneously. He also contributes trumpet here – it’s a fun ride.

They open with Woody Shaw’s The Moontrane, shuffling briskly with absolutely blazing trumpet and more casual sax from Alexandre. Bianchi takes it even more tersely as Peterson lurks on the perimeter, and then the two join forces as they will throughout the album, bubbling up in tandem. Peterson alludes to distant thunder against the horns as it winds out. The second cut, Monk’s Dream is a deliciously radical reinvention, constantly shifting shape – at one point Bianchi takes over both rhythm and melody as Peterson prowls aggressively, Rudy Royston style. The false ending is a lot of fun. A nimble, purposeful organ tune, the title track – an original dedicated to Peterson’s dad – features more expansive perimeter work from the drums, Alexandre again bringing it down to earth after Evans’ joyous extrapolations.

Shaw’s Katrina Ballerina is as lyrical as one would hope, Evans’ understatedly wounded solo followed memorably by a warily expansive one by Alexandre. Peterson can’t resist playfully sideswiping every other beat on a lickety-split version of Shaw’s Beyond All Limits; arguably the most captivating of all the Shaw stuff here is Zoltan, with its artful, shifting horn segments, allusively martial drum intro and jovially spiraling guitar from guest Dave Fiuczynski. But the real standout tracks here are the originals. On My Side is an all-too-brief, slowly unwinding, classic late 50s style ballad with a warmly memorable Alexandre solo; Beyond My Wildest Dream portrays Peterson’s wife as somebody who’s bright, really has her act together but also has a lot of fun, lit up by Evans’ ebullient attack and some more killer interplay with Peterson shadowing Bianchi as he wheels around. And Inside Job is a juicily noirish, catchy theme that Bianchi tackles with casual hints of menace.

You know implied melody, right? Well, Peterson gets deep into implied rhythm on a stunningly terse, minimalistic take of Ritha, by Larry Young – when the organ drops out and leaves it to the drums, the effect is that the blithe shuffle is still going on even though Peterson is only playing about 20% of the time. It’s arguably the high point of the album. There’s also a blistering, funky cover of John McLaughlin’s Spectrum, Fiuczynski in “on” mode all the way through, blowing the Mahavishnu original to smithereens. The only miss here is an attempt to jazz up the Xmas carol We Three Kings – it’s better than Jethro Tull’s version of Good King Wenceslas, but it’s hard to do much with a grammarschool playground singalong: “We three kings of orient are/Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.” No, they don’t sing it. Maybe they should have. Peterson and crew play the cd release show for this one on June 4 at 9 PM at the Cornelia St. Cafe.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment