Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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