Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Frank Wess’ Magic 101: Truth in Advertising

Tenor sax legend Frank Wess has a new album out, Magic 101 with Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Winard Harper on drums. The title is apt. If you heard this without knowing the backstory, you might think that it makes a good, warmly purist companion piece to the recent Harry Allen/Ehud Asherie albums, and you’d be right. The backstory, of course, is that Wess was 89 when he recorded this (he’s 91 now) and is at the absolute top of his game as tunesmith through a mix of familiar standards, a couple of awe-inspiring duets with Barron, an original and a solo piece. The vibe is the same as on the two memorable Hank and Frank albums he made with Hank Jones in the past decade; casual but deep in the tradition, and in the feeling that tradition implies.

From the first note, it’s obvious that the band is amped through the roof to play with him – and they hang back, and they chill because that’s what he’s doing most of the time. Wess hits the opening track,  Say It Isn’t So with a blippy Dexter Gordon-ish nonchalance that  picks up as it goes along. There’s an absolutely gorgeous moment here where Harper switches to a vaudevillian shuffle on the ride cymbal, and then it all comes together. Barron’s solos here rank with anything he’s ever recorded: the neoclassical fanfare he hides in the middle of the third verse is absolutely delicious.

The Very Thought of You is a Barron feature, with some richly lingering upper register lines that sound as it he’s playing an electric piano. Harper’s subtle brushwork underscores an unselfconsciously deep, nunaced Wess solo on the first verse – it’s amazing how much control and range he still has, to rival anyone a fifth his age!  The sole Wess original here, Pretty Lady, is a duet with Barron, the pianist’s coloristic, judicious lyricism against balmy sax, picking up unexpectedly with My Funny Valentine echoes. Another duet,  Come Rain or Come Shine works the same vein, Barron in more of a ragtime mode against Wess’ mistiness, moving through gospel and then hitting an unexpectedly chilling couple of bars and then lingering in a noir ending. Wow!

Easy Living serves as an almost ten-minute launching pad for Wess’ warmly exploratory, richly blues-infused soloing, Davis leading the band through a subtle series of tempo shifts as it slowly picks up steam. Likewise, the bassist tackles Blue Monk with a determination not to walk simple blues change and the rest of the band follows, Barron choosing his spots, Wess taking it as high as he goes on this album. Wess ends it with a solo tenor rendition of All Too Soon, a clinic in allusive implied melody and how to choose a spot. Long may he play things like this.

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August 3, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz for Obama 2012: Unforgettable

Jazz for Obama 2012 last night at Symphony Space was like one of those Kennedy Center New Year’s Eve concerts, a hall of fame lineup, except that this one vociferously represented the 99%. Only a special occasion like this could bring together such an all-star cast from five generation of jazz: Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Jim Hall, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts, to name less than half of the cast. Inspired by the prospect of playing for free for the sake of benefiting the re-election campaign of a President who, as one of the organizers put it, “comes across as the only adult in the room,” they delivered what might be the most transcendent concert of the year. There’s an interview with organizer/pianist Aaron Goldberg up at artinfo that provides a lot of useful background.

Yet as ecstatic as the music was, there was a persistent unease. Timeless tenor sax sage Jimmy Heath kicked off the show alongside Barrron, Carter and the purist Greg Hutchinson on drums, with a soulful take of There Will Never Be Another You followed by Autumn in New York. Evocative and wistful as that one was, Heath ended it with a moody series of tritones, perfectly capsulizing the pre-election tension that hostess Dee Dee Bridgewater brought up again and again, imagining the spectre of Mitt Romney in the Oval Office. Guitarist Hall, who was particularly energized to be part of the festivities, joined Carter in a warmly conversational duo of All the Things You Are and then a biting blues. After a bright Barron/Carter ballad, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joined Allen, McBride and drummer Ralph Peterson for a wrenchingly epic take of one of Barack Obama’s favorite songs, John Coltrane’s Wise One. Its searing ache and ominous modalities were inescapable even as the quartet finally took it swinging with a redemptive thunderstorm from Peterson and his cymbals. As  Bridgewater put it, “That was a moment!”

Tyner and tenorist Joe Lovano followed, maintaining the full-throttle intensity with Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, the pianist’s menacing low lefthand sostenuto vortices contrasting with the sax’s sharp, bluesy directness. After that, their take of Search for Peace held steady, majestic and unselfconsciously righteous. The first set closed with a playful bass/vocal duet on It’s Your Thing by Bridgewater and McBride.

The second part of the show opened with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato teaming up for a couple of Brazilian-tinged pop songs. Mehldau was joined by McBride for a rapturous, casually contemplative take on Monk’s Think of One – and where was Tain? Oh yeah, there he was, jumping in and adding his signature irrepressible wit.

Claudia Acuna then led a family band of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, his sons Zack on drums and Adam on trumpet, Craig Haynes on congas and Alex Hernandez on bass through a blazing, insistent, Puerto Rican-spiced Moondance that simply would not be denied. After that, bass legend Henry Grimes wasted no time in thoroughly Grimesing Freedom Jazz Dance. Completely still but masterful with his fleet fingers, he took Allen and Watts on an expansive, surreal, brisk outer-space AACM-age stroll on the wings of microtones, slides, and a handful of wicked rasps. And Allen and Watts were game! She waited for her moment and then joined in with an off-center, minimalist lunar glimmer while Watts added distant Plutonian whispers. The concert ended on a high-spirited note with Goldberg taking over the keys for a boisterousl warped version of Epistrophy, along with McBride, Lovano and ageless drum legend Roy Haynes bedeviling his mates throughout an endless series of false starts, and endings, and good-natured japes: the tune hardly got past the waltzing introductory hook, McBride patiently looping it as Haynes shamelessly energized the crowd. It would have been impossible to end the show on a better note, equal parts exhilaration and dread.

Some of you may have reservations about another Obama administration, but consider the alternative: a corporate raider who’s made millions putting his fellow citizens out of work, who cavalierly looks forward to nuclear war with Iran and has such contempt for the American public that he doesn’t even bother to cover his lies. We are in a depression, no doubt: we will be in an even worse one if Romney might win, perish the thought. For those of you who aren’t out of work and can afford an investment in the future, there’s still time to help our President’s reelection campaign at WWW.JAZZFOROBAMA2012.COM.

October 10, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lourdes Delgado’s Photos Reveal an Intimate Side of the NYC Jazz World

This is how the other half lives. Lourdes Delgado’s photographs currently on display at the Instituto Cervantes document numerous New York jazz luminaries in their own homes from 2002 to 2008. From a New York perspective, it’s vicarious to the extreme, considering that space is the most sought-after status commodity in the five boroughs: “”Oooh, Kenny Barron’s got a house!” – in Brooklyn, of course. In addition to their historical value, Delgado’s black-and-white shots often vividly illustrate their subjects’ personalities, intentionally or not (she allowed those photographed to choose their spots, and what they wore). Paradigm-shifter Matana Roberts, always the free spirit, cheery in her vinyl clutter; the late Dewey Redman, regal in his African costume beneath framed posters from innumerable obscure European festivals; legendary drummer Chico Hamilton on his couch with his plants, warm and welcoming; conduction maestro Butch Morris exuding a stern zen calm, notwithstanding the wine stains on the couch; guitarists Mike and Leni Stern relaxed in their hippie pad with their Abyssinian cat, keyb guys Craig Taborn wary in his impeccable, OCD-neat space and Robert Glasper sleepy in his messy crash pad with just a futon and headphones. Pianist Joanne Brackeen has wall-to-wall mirrors and a big stuffed giraffe; rising star vocalist Gretchen Parlato sleeps on her couch with her furry friends. Sax titan Benny Golson has Ikea furniture; trumpeter Jack Walrath and first-call drummer Kenny Washington each surround themselves with a museum’s worth of vinyl records.

Ironies abound here, as does a resolute joie de vivre and ability to get the most out of spaces that non-urban dwellers would find ridiculously small. First place for resourcefulness goes to drummer Sylvia Cuenca, who hides a full kit beneath her loft bed, her Rhodes piano just inches away. Tuba player Marcus Rojas manages to fit two kids (one wearing a Shostakovich t-shirt), his tubas and bass, among other things, into a cramped Manhattan apartment. One of the most offhandedly striking shots depicts a young Marcus and EJ Strickland, saxophonist and drummer looking tough in their dreads in what looks like mom’s crib circa 2002. As expected, the promoters have more space than the musicians, notably George Wein, looking small and distant in the back of his rather palatial digs past the piano and the Persian rugs. Other small details, such as the instruments and albums favored by the artists, appear everywhere, often very surprisingly. Many musicians are so accustomed to being photographed that they typically put on a “photo face;” that Delgado captures so many of them here so candidly is no small achievement. The exhibit runs through July 29, free and open to the public, at the Instituto Cervantes, 211 E 49th St. Hours are 1-9 PM Mon-Fri, Sat 10:30 AM – 3 PM, closed Sundays.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, jazz, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Avey Makes an Auspicious Debut

Pianist Bobby Avey’s debut album A New Face instantly elevates him into the ranks of formidable 21st century players like Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, and Marc Cary. Intense, forceful and fearless, Avey has a powerful lefthand like Kenny Barron, a fondness for ominous modal excursions and a vivid sense of melody that hovers between the noir, the Romantics and Olivier Messiaen at his most otherworldly. Along with the other members of his trio, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Pearlson, this album features the always estimable Dave Liebman guesting on soprano and tenor sax on four tracks. The chemistry between players matches the quality of the compositions: if there’s been a better jazz debut album this year, we haven’t heard it.

The opening track, Late November begins with a machine-gun circular motif that Avey eventually leaves to the bass and drums and hovers over with a noirish glimmer – and then takes it down to a minefield of modal incisions on the third verse. Much of this album has a bracing third-stream feel and this is a prime example. Meanwhile, throughout most of the song, Pearlson and Kneeland lock in and hammer with Avey, something they do with considerable relish throughout the album. The second cut, In Retreat is a potently evocative, bitter, brooding ballad, Liebman adding understated grey tones over Avey’s richly melodic crescendos, agitated but completely in control. Kneeland takes it out into the depths with a woundedly syncopated solo. Delusion is a study in understated chromatics and rhythmic shifts, another Kneeland solo early on its quiet highlight. The title track kicks off with a tense, macabre-tinged bass solo which Avey expands eerily – it’s a Sam Fuller film played out in the churchyard at Saint-Sulpice, Liebman playing the role of semi-friendly ghost.

After the stalker intro of Less is Less Than Half, the drums prowl around Avey’s minimalism, building to a crashing McCoy Tyner style lefthand hook that winds up in a hammering, fiery, percussive blaze. By contrast, Influence, a duo piece for piano and tenor, shifts between a golden age late 50s vibe and an uneasily unwinding, ripplingly horizontal piano soundscape. The final cuts here reach genuinely majestic heights. Insight unfolds with Avey hammering on an insistent staccato pedal note, expands to a chromatic vamp that he roams around, eventually a marvelously terse chromatic bass solo, and then it all comes together, glimmering and intense. Likewise, Time Unfolding finally throws restraint to the wind after giving Liebman the chance to rove expansively and then finally plunge into the rhythm section’s staccato syncopation before Avey and then Pearlson take it all the way up. Avey’s ceiling is pretty much as high as he want to go with it. Hope you like traveling, dude.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment