Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Mesmerizingly Provocative New Suite From Matana Roberts at the Park Avenue Armory

“Barcoding existence,” spoken word artist Geng pronounced, calmly and stoically, standing motionless in a monklike outfit on a balcony inside the Park Avenue Armory last night. Below him, bandleader and alto saxophonist Matana Roberts was flanked by a sextet of drummers, three on each side. She was fixated on her laptop. Several times throughout her sold-out show in the opulently renovated Officers Room here, she’d record the ensemble and then play it back, or loop a segment, as if strategizing her next move.

“Watch them triangulate on your tv dinner,” Geng intoned. He could have been referring to a microwave…or something more sinister. That was the least opaque moment in a night of music that was as provocative as it was allusive. Roberts’ catalog is fearlessly political, and richly lyrical, spanning from lushly enveloping AACM jazz, to poignant small-group and solo compositions, to heavy rock and multimedia. You can check out her similarly thought-inducing collages at the closing reception tonight at 6 at the Fridman Gallery, 287 Spring St. west of Varick in SoHo.

She opened this new suite, Blood.Blues (A Remembrance) with a couple of deliciously microtonal sax swoops and ended with a long “ommmmmm” mantra, encouraging the audience to join her. In between, she led the group – which also comprised drummers Kate Gentile, Tomas Fujiwara, Qasim Ali Naqvi, Mike Pride, Ryan Sawyer and Justin Veloso – through a series of highly improvised variations on two main themes. One of them employed a series of gongs to create waves of ringing, pointillistic, gamelanesque melody. The other was a series of sardonic, martially-inflected snare drum rhythms. There are always innumerable levels of meaning in Roberts’ work, so to reduce it to the dilemma of how to keep the struggle going while Big Brother tries to lull you into complacency wouldn’t do justice to it. That seemed to be the main theme.

Roberts held the center calmly, both with airy, warmly resonant sax phrases and with a looming string synth riff emanating at odd intervals from the laptop. Meanwhile, Geng spoke obliquely of resistance against repression and the daily struggle to keep it together during historically dark times. Much as the roughly hourlong suite had plenty of crushing sarcasm and defiance, Roberts chose to wrap it up on a prayerful note, a guarded voice of hope.

Roberts is off on UK tour next month with sound artist Kelly Jayne Jones; dates are here.

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April 25, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drummer Kate Gentile’s Formidable Band Headlines At the Silent Barn on October 3

Why are so many of the best jazz albums made by bands led by drummers? Because they have the deepest address books: everybody wants to play with the good ones. Kate Gentile is the latest to keep this hallowed tradition going – her darkly vivid, intensely focused new album Mannequins is streaming at Bandcamp. She has an album release show coming up on a weird but excellently eclectic bill on Oct 3 at 11 PM at the Silent Barn. Art-rocker Martin Bisi – who may do his vortical morass of guitar loops at this one – opens the night at 8, followed by the album release show by assaultive shredmeister Brandon Seabrook‘s Needle Drive and then math-shred duo Bangladeafy. Cover is a measly $8.

As you would expect from a multi-percussionist – she also plays vibraphone here -, her compositions are very diversely rhythmic. The album is a jazz sonata of sorts, variations on a series of cell-like themes, interspersed with miniatures, some of them pretty funny. Matt Mitchell’s distorted synth fuels the staggeringly syncopated opening track, Stars Covered in Clouds of Metal – it comes across as super-syncopated late 70s King Crimson and quickly disintegrates.

Jeremy Viner’s tenor sax and Mitchell’s piano team with the drums for a sardonically blithe theme as Trapezoidal Nirvana pounces along like a Pac Man on acid, Gentile and Adam Hopkins’ bass anchoring a blippy piano solo as the rhythm slowly falls away. The starscape midway through, Gentile going for a noir bongo feel with her rims and hardware as Mitchell sparkles eerily and Viner wafts uneasily, is especially tasty. Again, King Crimson comes to mind, especially as the crescendo builds. 

Unreasonable Optimism pairs unsettlingly syncopted piano, vibes and sax, Gentile entering to provide some welcome ballast and gravitas. Mitchell’s creepy, Mompou-esque belltone piano takes centerstage as bass and drums prowl the perimeter diligently and then drop down to sepulchral wisps along with the sax.

The sardonically titled miniature Hammergaze evokes Kenny Wollesen’s gamelanesque explorations. Otto, on Alien Shoulders revisits the album’s tricky metrics, but more playfully, with squirrelly piano and squiggly electronics. The group follows the aptly and amusingy titled Xenormorphic with Wrack, bustling with animated sax and spiraling piano, the closest thing to mainstream postbop swing here. Then they run the knotty cells of Cardiac Logic.

Rattletrap drums, squalling and then furtive sax make way for deep-sky piano and vibes, then conjoin in the brief diptych Full Lucid. Likewise, the portentous atmospherics of Sear cede the path to the uneasily Messianic piano/sax lattices, steadily cascading variations and wry birdhouse tableau of Micronesia Parakeet.

The album winds up with two massive epics. Alchemy Melt [With Tilt] has a broodingly altered boogie interspersed within jauntily flickering interludes and more of those moodily bubbling cells, punctuated by a long, squiggly Viner solo. Does SSGF neatly synopsize everything? More or less, with stately/exploratory piano dichotomies, a brief bass solo, percolating sax and Gentile’s subtle wit. It ends distinctly unresolved. If you want entertainment and intensity, the album has plenty of both.

September 28, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jasmine Lovell-Smith Brings Her Bright, Vivid Songs Without Words to Gowanus Tonight

Dubious segues aside, there’s an intriguing jazz twinbill at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus tonight starting at 7 with some no doubt vigorous improvisation, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Matt Bauder ripping it up with drummer Tomas Fujiwara. They’re followed at around 8 by New Zealand-based soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith and her vividly tuneful, cinematic jazz project, Towering Poppies. The lineup for this show includes Cat Toren on piano, Adam Hopkins on bass and Kate Gentile on drums; cover is $10.

Lovell-Smith’s debut album, Fortune Songs, with a different cast – Toren on piano, Russell Moore on trumpet, Patrick Reid on bass and Kate Pittman on drums – is streaming at Bandcamp. Lovell-Smith likes anthemic hooks, resonant long-tone harmonies and glistening, neoromantically-tinged piano. Tempos are on the slow side; the group maintains a close focus on interplay and emotional content, eschewing any kind of ostentatious soloing. A gentle, springlike atmosphere pervades this warmly thematic collection.

The opening track, Confidence (One) sets the tone with its low-key twin-horn theme over a muted, syncopated pulse – Pittman’s misterioso cymbal and snare work is just plain fantastic. A lively dancing theme eventually moves to the bass; sax and trumpet intertwine deftly as it winds out. The group follows that with a glimmering tone poem of sorts, Darkling I Listen, then Let Go Be Free, which develops the theme with a lingering Miles Davis gravitas over a carefully strolling, cleverly mutating pulse, Pittman again in the foreground with some neat brushwork.

Confidence (Two) refracts the album’s opening melody through shifting rhythms and a spare, somewhat disassembled arrangement, Lovell-Smith’s crystalline solo juxtaposed against a constantly mutating backdrop. After that, there’s a free interlude where individual instrumental voices prowl around while Lovell-Smith holds the center, edging toward an anthemic crescendo. Moore’s carefree but purposeful trumpet and then Lovell-Smith’s tenderly lyrical sax take centerstage in A Nest to Fly, anchored by Toren’s lowlit, sustained piano and Pittman’s increasingly triumphant drum flourishes.

Lover’s Knot takes its time rising from an uptight circular piano theme, Lovell-Smith finally introducing a welcome, gentle respite. The album’s last number, When the Tide is Right bounces along with yet more artful cymbal-and-snare work from Pittman, dancing steps from Toren and shiny terseness from the horns. This is an auspicious opportunity to get acquainted with a distinctive new voice in jazz composition and her simpatico cast.

April 7, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment