Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Brilliant Trio Album from Pianist Benny Green

Pianist Benny Green leads a trio on a three-night stand starting tonight at 7:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, continuing through Sunday and if potently original postbop is your thing, you can’t go wrong with these shows. It’s a launch weekend for his new trio album Magic Beans with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, just out on Sunnyside. As you’d expect from somebody who came up in the Art Blakey camp, this is a pretty intense album. Interestingly, what Green is going for on a lot of the numbers here is to bring to a piano trio the kind of harmonic jostling that characterized much of the sax/trumpet interplay between, say, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan on innumerable early 60s Blue Note sides. It’s an inventive idea that imbues Green’s compositions with a frequently haunting edge. The arrangements are pretty straight-up, pre-Bill Evans style, the bass holding to the rhythm and anchoring the lows, Kenny Washington doing the impossible by playing both a slinky behind-the-beat groove while pushing it with cymbal and snare accents.

The opening track, Benny’s Crib is a straight-up swing number that runs nimbly along the curb side of the blues and stays there until a rather wry turnaround. Kenny Drew, a terse misterioso noir shuffle, has echoes of both Monk and Brubeck and warms up a little with more of a bluesy feel before a similarly judicious, tightlipped bass solo.  Flying Saucer also echoes Brubeck with considerably more aggression and knottily spiraling permutations on a tight chromatic progression

Jackie McLean, an apt homage, has bite, a neat syncopated clave hook and bracing close harmonies. Vanished goes way down toward the abyss, a murky, often creepy ballad with a Chopinesque plaintiveness and richly suspenseful restraint from Green. Harold Land takes something of a jump blues and gives it a dark early 60s intensity.

The ttle track kicks off as a brooding cha-cha livened by Kenny Washington’s rimshots before they take it out for a crepuscular stroll and then back to the dimlit cabana. Paraphrase, true to its title, sways along with a nebulous unease up to a dancing Peter Washington solo. The ballad La Portuguesa moves from a mist of cymbals and plaintive pedalpoint through an almost minimalist, fado-influenced tune. The final number is the moodily bouncy, tango-inflected Further Away. It’s only February, but we have a strong contender for best piano album of the year here. For a good idea how this sounds, Green will be doing a lot of this at both early and late sets through Sunday at the Jazz Standard.

Advertisements

February 22, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gary Smulyan Goes Where Nobody Else Has Since About 1970

Isn’t it funny how the Hammond B3 organ and the baritone sax have complemented each other so well in funk music and ska for decades…yet hardly ever in jazz? For that matter has there EVER been a B3 jazz groove record featuring baritone sax? According to the liner notes for Gary Smulyan’s new album Smul’s Paradise (just out on Capri Records), the answer is yes: bari player Ronnie Cuber did several sessions with Lonnie Smith in the 60s, and is featured on Smith’s 1970 Live at Club Mozambique album. But in the past four decades? There doesn’t appear to be anything else! So this new album is especially welcome, an animated, warmly congenial, wee-hours collection of brilliant obscurities and originals originally conceived as a tribute to underrated 60s organist Don Patterson that quickly took on a life of its own.

Smulyan gets props everywhere, most recently as a winner of the 2011 DownBeat critics poll. This album is typical, in that it features his methodically aggressive, frequently wry, witty attack and smoky tone: Smulyan knows that there’s always a potential for humor in his instrument, and he’s not afraid to go there. Organist Mike LeDonne and guitarist Peter Bernstein have a comfortable rapport that stems from their long-running collaboration as the core of the house band at Harlem’s Smoke Jazz Club. Kenny Washington – Smulyan’s favorite drummer, and a lot of other peoples’ – propels this unit with his usual blend of scholarly erudition and counterintuitive verve.

The opening track is a radically reinvented version Bobby Hebb’s 60s pop hit Sunny- is this a staggered bolero? A jazz waltz? Either way, it’s a long launching pad for methodical, steady 8th-note runs by Smulyan and Bernstein. Patterson’s Up in Betty’s Room is a ridiculously catchy stripper theme of sorts, Smulyan in confidently deadpan mode, LeDonne enhancing the vintage soul/blues vibe with his bubbly, animated lines. Pistaccio, by another unfairly neglected 60s organ talent, Rhoda Scott, sails along on Washington’s blissfully subtle bossa-tinged groove. Similarly, Washington shakes up the shuffle on the catchy title track, capped off by a high-spirited round of call-and-response, everyone getting a word in with the drums.

George Coleman’s Little Miss Half Steps gets a bright, unselfconsciously fun treatment with some artful syncopation from Smulyan, organ and guitar again interspersed between the drum breaks (many of the tracks here were completed in a single take; this sounds like one of them). The most memorable number here is Patterson and Sonny Stitt’s soul song Aires, Bernstein channeling vintage George Benson, LeDonne’s lush washes of chords taking it up several notches. The album closes with the swinging, insistent Blues for D.P., a Patterson homage by Smulyan, and Heavenly Hours, a mashup of Seven Steps to Heaven and My Shining Hour. Amusingly (and maybe intentionally), the hook sounds like Diablo’s Dance (which incidentally is the opening cut on the highly anticipated new album of early Wes Montgomery recordings out soon on Resonance). As party music, this is awfully hard to beat: it’s the perfect soundtrack to 4 AM get-togethers when nobody cares anymore whether the people down the hall are awake or not.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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