Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Soulful Vocal Jazz Intrigue from Nicole Zuraitis

Chanteuse/pianist Nicole Zuraitis’ new sophomore album is intriguing titled Pariah Anthem. Zuraitis certainly doesn’t look like a pariah and doesn’t sing like one either. The album is a collection of  opaque, reflective ballads that work both sides of the line between jazz and funk, or jazz and soul. She fronts a band of hungry up-and-coming New York players: Julian Shore on electronic keys, Victor Gould on piano, Billy Buss on trumpet, Ilan Bar-Lavi on electric guitar, Scott Colberg on bass and Dan Pugach on drums. Zuraitis has a  powerful mezzo-soprano that suprisingly never cuts loose here to the extent that she can live: she can belt with anyone. A casual listener might hear this at low volume and mistake it for a misguided attempt at top 40, but it’s not. Zuraitis works her dynamics artfully, rising and falling, and knows when to make a break in the clouds with a big anthemic crescendo or slashing piano riff. She plays the album release show this Sunday June 23 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood with Jeremy Pelt guesting on trumpet. On June 28 she’s at the Astor Room, 34-12 36th St. in Astoria at 7 PM.

The album’s opening track, Stinger kicks off with bright, hopeful trumpet over a summery, funky sway and works its way to a catchy vamp spiced by Shore’s electric piano. Watercolors is gentler and more soul-tinged, a thoughtful ballad with a little slink to it. Try, Love is an Americana-tinged waltz in the same vein as Sasha Dobson, followed by the faster, funkier Secrets, lit up by Shore’s scampering Rhodes breaks.

Zuraitis brings it down again with the moody, almost minmialist Staring into the Sun, using it as a long launching pad for her most spine-tingling vocal flights here. The trickily rhythmic, staccato To the River  builds intensity to a big, angst-fueled romp, the whole band going full steam. They follow that with the nonchalantly incisive Dagger, Bar-Lavi tossing off a biting, slashing flight down the scale. Zuraitis’ moody resonance at the piano anchors Buss’ sun-through-the-clouds fills on The Bridge, a blissful escape anthem of sorts, emphasis on bliss.

Zuraitis comes out from behind the keys for the pensive, almost rubato rainy-day ballad If Only for Today, Gould taking over on piano; it’s her most nuanced performance here and it’s a quiet knockout, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Blossom Dearie songbook..The album ends with the title track, a slinky soul groove that almost imperceptibly rises to a bristling intensity. “With every breath there lives a ghost,” Zuraitis sings uneasily. “What was lost won’t rise in vain, all will meet on an even plane,” she portends as Bar-Lavi’s guitar sheds sparks and the rhythm section pulses. It’s a powerful way to end this distinctive and genre-defying album.

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June 20, 2013 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Plush Nocturnes from Julian Shore

Pianist Julian Shore’s new Filaments is not a particularly edgy album, but it is an unselfconsciously attractive one – and it isn’t shallow by a long shot. While a student at Berklee, Shore found a muse in Gretchen Parlato, and jumped at the chance to sub in her band when Taylor Eigsti was out of town. That influence is clear here: it could also be said that this is a less demanding version of what Sara Serpa is doing with vocalese-based third-stream sounds. For Shore, less is more: his soloing is spacious, usually establishing a warm early-evening ambience in tandem with the plush vocal harmonies of Alexa Barchini – who also wrote lyrics to a couple of the tunes – and Shelly Tzarafi. Phil Donkin on bass and the reliably excellent Tommy Crane on drums maintain a deceptively energetic pulse underneath.

The album’s opening track, Grey Lights, Green Lily sets the tone, a distantly bucolic theme that reminds of Jeremy Udden, or Bill Frisell but without the persistent unease. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s biting prowl contrasts with Shore’s terse, warm approach and Tzarafi’s nebulous atmospherics. Barchini’s clear, high soprano shows off a Jenifer Jackson-esque wistfulness on Made Very Small, Rosenwinkel’s high-beam sostenuto lines mingling tersely with Shore’s crepuscular twinkle. Big Bad World, a jazz waltz, takes chances with clutter as Jeff Miles’ guitar spirals around the piano, but they sidestep it, the women’s harmonies driving a series of lush crescendos.

Whisper, a fetchingly direct, hushedly lyrical Shore/Barchini co-write, shows off a crystalline purity throughout her range; the song is reprised briefly at the end of the album as a piece for Kurt Ozan’s solo dobro. Give brings Rosenwinkel back for oldschool charm and then spacious bite as Godwin Louis’ alto sax, Billy Buss’ trumpet and Andrew Hadro’s baritone sax join forces for a catchy late-period Weather Report style chart. Donkin nimbly intersperses his own muted solo amidst the glimmer of the tastefully, low-key jazz waltz I Will If You Will, while Crane does the same with a surprisingly effective, hard-hitting drive alongside Miles’ judicious incisions and the wash of vocals on Like a Shadow.

For one reason or another, the single most intense track here, Misdirection/Determined is a lot closer to art-rock than jazz, Barchini evoking a Mingus-era Joni Mitchell longing over Shore’s moody modalities. And the most overtly balladesque of the tracks, Venus, features Noah Preminger’s tenor shifting artfully between the boudoir and the highwire. This album sneaks up on you: there literally isn’t a bad song on it. It’s  a step in an auspicious direction: let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

October 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Feinberg’s New Album Employs Many Hands

The press release for jazz bassist Michael Feinberg’s new album With Many Hands calls it “unfettered by the canonical notions of tradition.” In other words, iconoclastic, which ought to make it right up our alley. To put an end to the suspense right off the bat, it isn’t particularly iconocolastic music, unless you define jazz as abstruse and inaccessible, and by that standard it’s extremely iconoclastic. This is an album of ideas, some of them “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas, which to be completely truthful, sometimes you have to wait for. But they’re worth it most of the time. Feinberg has an excellent band behind him – tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, altoist Godwin Louis, Alex Wintz on electric guitar, Julian Shore on piano and Dan Platzman on drums. They explore ballads, modalities, cleverly overlapping solos and circular themes, which are all the rage in the indie classical world: it would be nice to know they learned that from Fela, although a more cynical assumption would be that they got it from Vampire Weekend instead.

The title track, a ballad, opens the album and takes awhile to get going, but when the saxes shift it from balmy to wistful and wary, that makes it all worthwhile. Temple Tales, by Platzman, introduces the first of the circular numbers, and an artfully arranged, steady series of solos that finally wind up with a grin as Louis leads the reeds in on Shore’s heels, rejoicing. Another circular number, a Feinberg co-write, lets the bass run the hook but not before a genuinely suspenseful solo that serves as a springboard for some judicious crescendoing from Shore. By the standards of heavy metal, the next track, The Hard Stuff, is awesome; jazzwise, you can see it coming a mile away, yet Feinberg’s booming modal chords are impossible to resist. When Wintz takes a solo that you can also see coming a mile away, it’s like watching a roller coaster from the top of the first loop: when you reach the first turn, you’ve been expecting it, but it’s still fun to feel those g-forces.

It would be nice if the “where did the summer go” wistfulness of August went beyond Wintz’ unselfconsciously vivid opening lines, but it doesn’t. Fighting Monsters, a briskly walking swing tune, benefits from aggressive piano work from Shore and Preminger’s boisterous excursions – and a neat outro where the drums switch roles with the piano. The album winds up with another swing number, Feinberg’s catchy, circular bassline half-hidden beneath Platzman’s boisterous rumble and bounce. All this is enough to make Feinberg someone to keep your eye on in the next few years. The entire crew here play the cd release show for this one this Friday the 25th at 7:30 at Smalls.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment