Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Haunted, Anxious Beauty in Saxophonist Caroline Davis’ Magnum Opus

As if the plandemic wasn’t tortuous enough, alto saxophonist Caroline Davis had lost her father the previous year. To cope with her grief, she read poetry and psychology and began writing what would become her most intense and ambitiously symphonic album to date, Portals, Volume I: Mourning, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s got a two-night stand at Smalls on July 22 and 23, with sets at 7:30 and around, leading an adventurously swinging quartet with Matt Mitchell on piano. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Davis is as much at home in the postbop tradition as she is in the avant garde, although her compositions gravitate toward the latter, with a sometimes thorny, sometimes airily crystallized approach. The new album is stunningly in the here and now, and although a dark undercurrent persists, there’s a steely resilience and guarded hope in Davis’ acerbically shapeshifting themes and variations as well as her frequent spoken-word interludes. In the dead of 2020, she couldn’t find a studio in town to record it, so she had to go Westchester…and then had the misfortune to release it just as the Hochul regime crushed the arts in New York once again last fall. This album deserves to be vastly better known.

The lineup embraces the adventurous sweep of the music. Alongside Davis are Marquis Hill on trumpet, Julian Shore on piano, Chris Tordini on bass, Allan Mednard on drums and a rotating string quartet of violinists Mazz Swift and Josh Henderson, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts.

They open with Yesterday’s Seven Thousand Years, the whole ensemble circling uneasily until the bandleader introduces a calm that rises with an unsettled, loose-limbed, quasi-funk groove. Mednard takes on a slinkier latin groove as Davis and Hill’s harmonies reach an angst-fueled peak.

Hop On Hop Off is the first part of a diptych, inspired by a father-daughter bus tour, the string quartet digging in hard bordering on frantic on the album’s opening theme, Roberts delivering a gritty, aptly frenetic solo. A lively conversation between Davis and Hill over insistent, loopy strings concludes what must have been a pretty wild ride. The second part, Highlighter Hearts refers to the notes Davis’ dad would hastily write her, in highlighter, during a busy workday. This time it’s Shore who runs the loop with anxiously soaring harmonies overhead. Davis’ bounding but allusively aching solo packs a wallop that stings long after she recedes for gentler clusters over the sweep of the strings.

The  improvisational string miniature On Stone reflect the abrasiveness of rock, and Davis’ fondness for meditating in nature, How to Stop a Drop of Water From Evaporating – put it in the ocean, as Davis’ father would say – coalesces into a funky rhythm out of an explosive violin solo. “Brown relics touch the belly of my sorrow,” Davis intones.

Acephalous Placebo, reflecting the elder Davis’ interest in epigenetic healing, has sax and trumpet returning to the tense, troubled opening theme, Hill choosing his spots in a bright solo over Shore’s flickering incisions, the piano’s eerie accents coloring the next disquieted variation. Respite, a surreal, music box-like miniature introduces Left, where Davis traces a narrative of childhood abandonment – clearly, this was a conflicted parent/child relationship. The jagged, raga-like solo violin intro only hints at the insistent agitation and moments of horror, individual voices following a series of split-second handoffs over a tense pulse.

A loopy string piece, Faced, precedes the album’s big epic, The Inflated Chariot Awaits Defeat, Davis elegantly picking up solo where the quartet leave off, then receding with clenched-teeth turmoil as Shore enters solemnly. It’s a reflection on pride and its implications, rising to a roller-coaster ride of sax. trumpet and bass solos and the most trad number here.

Davis closes the album with Worldliness and Non-Duality, a reflection on her father’s last words to her, serene orchestral grandeur juxtaposed against the relentlessly troubled initial theme. This is an absolutely brilliant, intricately conceived album that will resonate with anyone who’s suffered over the past twenty-eight months and counting.

 

 

 

 

July 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lithely Orchestral New Album From Guitarist Dave Stryker

Dave Stryker is known for being one of the most purposeful guitarists in jazz, and much of that is due to the deep blues influence that runs through his music. His latest album As We Are – streaming at Bandcamp – is his first with a string section, and interestingly the blues takes a backseat to more tropical inflections here. It’s the rare lean orchestral jazz album, 180 degrees from those Wes Montgomery records that were needlessly gunked up with unimaginative string arrangements. Pianist Julian Shore’s charts for the quartet of violinists Sara Caswell and Monica K.Davis, violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Marika Hughes are sleek yet biting, often adding disquiet rather than expected pillowy atmosphere. Bassist John Patitucci and Brian Blade provide understated, lithe propulsion.

There’s a brief, wistfully crescendoing string quartet overture to introduce the first full-band number, Lanes, beginning as a lean quasi-bossa. The rest of the band match Stryker’s economy of notes through his solo. Shore takes a rippling solo as the strings rise with a distantly wafting unease.

The album’s lone cover is a radical reinvention of Nick Drake’s River Man. Stryker’s somber, skeletal phrasing anchors wispy, stratospheric ambience from the strings until Patittucci’s lithe riffage draws the rest of the band in. Caswell sails and dips with a stiletto grace, handing off to Stryker’s similarly nimble, raindrop-dodging solo as the strings mist the windows. No doubt Drake would be satisfied (happy might be too strong a word for that gloomy guy) with the group as they sepulchrally wind their way down and out.

The catchy, tropically vamping Hope is pretty much 180 degrees from that, anchored by Patitucci’s terse pulse. Saudade is a similarly translucent, bittersweet song without words: imagine a mashup of Jimmy Giuffre pastoralia as played by a young George Benson.

The group shift from a moody, altered waltz through flickers of phantasmagoria to a spare, scrambling Shore solo in One Thing At a Time, written by the pianist. Patittucci clusters and romps, up to a long, shivery orchestral interlude; it would be nice to hear more Stryker here.

As We Were is a diptych, an acidically enveloping string intro giving way to a slow, fond, spacious ballad, the high strings contrasting with Stryker and Pattitucci’s genial lines. Dreams Are Real is the album’s catchiest number, Stryker subtly negotiating between a lyrical ballad, darker flamenco echoes, nocturnal lustre that winds up with an anxious ending, and a starry interlude with Shore and the strings.

The final cut is Soul Friend, a lush blend of oldtime gospel rusticity and a reflective sway, Caswell reaching for the sky, Stryker methodically bringing the band in for a bluesy landing. His next free-world gig is with saxophonist Jack Wilkins’ USF Quartet on March 6 at 3 PM at the Tampa Jazz Club, 1411 E 11th St. in Tampa, Florida. Cover is $20; students get in half price.

March 2, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensively Intriguing Improvisations With Guitarist Andre Matos’ and His Vast Vault of Online Collaborations

We’re still digging out from the glut of recordings made over the web since the lockdown, and one of the most intriguing is a series of projects by guitarist Andre Matos. Aptly titled On the Shortness of Life – a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca – it’s a series of pensive, sometimes atmospheric, mostly duo pieces streaming at Bandcamp. Matos’ most persistent trope here involves constructing spiky, incisive. sometimes subtly disquieting layers around tersely drifting melodies, often using a slide.

The obvious comparison is Bill Frisell‘s loopmusic. Both guitarists explore the pastoral as well as the noir and don’t waste notes; if anything, Matos plays with an even greater economy here. Most of these tracks originated when the guitarist asked his wide and talented circle to send him improvisations he could play over; a few of these numbers are his colleagues’ responses to his own creations. Matos typically overdubs additional layers using a wide palette of electric and acoustic effects. Most of the numbers in this vast collection are on the short side, many under two minutes. Matos encourages listeners to pick their favorites and create their own playlists.

The album opens with a lingering, reverbtoned, brightly verdant sunrise scene sent in by pianist Richard Sears and closes with their much more somber sunset theme. The album’s most expansive interlude is the enigmatic title track, Matos’ lingering, minimalistic accents around João Lencastre’s slowly tumbling drums and misty hardware. The drummer turns out to be a great sparring partner, the two building deep-space quasi-Wallesonics, icier and more sparse tableaux, and blue-flame rubato delta blues.

Matos’ wife, the brilliant singer Sara Serpa joins him on three tracks: a study in spiky clusters versus ambience (and a couple of great jokes); a tongue-in-cheek, goofy little tree-frog tableau; and a tantalizing miniature with some surprisingly trad scatting.

Matos joins with keyboardist Dov Manski to assemble spare bits and pieces of warmly pastoral phrases over ominously looming atmospherics. A duet with bassist André Carvalho rises to catchy pastoralia, ending with a virtual game of catch-and-follow. Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger contributes the most animated, singalong melody, Matos bending and weaving around it. Another tenor player, Nathan Blehar – who’s represented several times here – adds a similarly upbeat, tuneful interlude later on.

The album’s usual dynamic turns inside out with Matos’ calmly rhythmic, echoing phrases against trumpeter Gonçalo Marques’ gritty, increasingly intense volleys of circular breathing. The same happens later with bassist Demian Cabaud’s whirling high harmonics and wild swoops. There’s an immense amount of music to choose from here.

June 2, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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