Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Emma Grace Stephenson Brings Her Dynamic Piano Songcraft to Gowanus This Weekend

If state-of-the-art tuneful songcraft is your thing, the place to be this weekend is at Shapeshifter Lab on April 29 at 7 PM where brilliantly eclectic Australian pianist and singer Emma Grace Stephenson opens a fantastic triplebill, leading a trio with a surprise mystery guest singer (the venue says it’s Kristin Berardi). Afterward at a little after 8 another pianist, Richard Sussman leads his sweeping, enveloping allstar Sextet, which includes Tim Hagans on trumpet; Rich Perry on tenor sax and Zach Brock on violin. Then at 9:30 by the Notet with saxophonist Jeremy Udden, trombonist JC Sanford, guitarist Andrew Green and guests playing he album release show for their new one.

Stephenson is an artist who rightfully could headline a bill like this. She’s an extraordinarily vivid composer whose work gravitates toward the dark side. Her greatest achievement so far is probably her work with the Hieronymus Trio, whose 2016 album is a high-water mark in recent noir cinematic jazz. But she’s also a songwriter, and has a plaintively dynamic new album, Where the Rest of the World Begins, with them and singer Gian Slater, due out soon but not yet up at her music page.

Maybe coincidentally, the opening track, Crows Will Still Fly comes across as a more rhythmically tricky take on the same kind of moody parlor pop that Stephenson’s fellow Oz songwriter Greta Gertler Gold has perfected over the past decade or so. Slater’s airy, expressive high soprano is a cross between Gertler Gold and Minnie Riperton, but more misty than either singer. The lithe bass and drums of Nick Henderson and Oliver Nelson push the song into a bright, triumphant clearing for Slater’s scatting; then Stephenson follows with a similarly crescendoing piano solo. “With great joy comes great sorrow” is the theme.

Song For My Piano is a wry, saloon blues-love ballad: “While you throw stones in the water, blowing my cover, who am I kidding?” Slater wants to know; then the bandleader goes for a cautiously rippling spiral of a solo. As a pianist, Stephenson brings to mind Mara Rosenbloom’s blend of neoromantic gleam and brushfire improvisation.

If the Sun Made a Choice has a jaunty Dawn Oberg-like bounce and an imagistic lyric pondering the pitfalls of narrow, dualistic thinking. Rising out of purposeful chords and washes of cymbals, Love Is Patient is much more expansive, even rubato in places: ”Always in the present tense with every sense, do less, live more,” Slater cajoles.

Stephenson switches to Rhodes, then eventually moves back to the grand piano for Going In Circles. an unlikely but successful mashup of artsy ELO-style pop, 70s soul and trickily metric, tightly  unspooling Philip Glass-ine melody. The final cut is the epic title track, which takes a turn in the brooding direction of the trio’s previous album. Stephenson opens it spaciously and expands from there with her rippling water imagery:

An endless flow of useless thoughts and consequent sensations
Can govern every step we take filling us with trepidation
But we are not the thoughts within nor just an empty vessel…

From there a magically misterioso drum solo and Stephenson’s pointillistic, music-box-like solo punctuate this poetic meditation on impermanence and change. Lots to sink your ears into here from a fearlessly individualistic talent who defies easy categorization.

Advertisements

April 27, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jon Gordon – Evolution

The jazz saxophonist’s latest album is aptly titled. He’s evolving in all directions, whether in jazz, classical or further toward the avant as the course of his career has recently swung. It wouldn’t be an insult to say that this is the kind of cd that could wean someone off of smooth jazz – it’s melodic, atmospheric and contemplatively subtle. When it’s edgy, it is in a quiet way. This isn’t particularly intense music but it’s very smart. The New York Times positively loves this guy – make of that what you will.

Jon Gordon got hooked on the idea of a large ensemble playing with Alan Ferber’s nonet over the last couple of years, and he’s put that experience to good use here. The cd kicks off with a stark, austere prelude featuring Sara Caswell and Andie Springer on violin, Jody Redhage on cello and Gordon himself on piano – an idea which will recur later on the truthfully titled Contemplation, sans Gordon, which is actually the darkest single cut here. There are also a couple of portraits of Gordon’s kids here, both featuring Bill Charlap’s  characteristically lyrical piano. Shane is illustrated as somewhat moody via a tone poem, Charlap playing inquisitively in a duo setting against Gordon’s wary soprano sax; by contrast, One for Liam is sprightly and full of life, shades of early Spyro Gyra before they went to Lite FM and got stuck there.

The rest of the album is rich with lush arrangements, the title track ambitiously building off a staggered beat to an attractive, breezy theme that smartly pairs off Sean Wayland’s piano with Gordon’s carefree alto. Currents moves from exploratory and then expansive on the wings of Nate Radley’s guitar which sets the stage for bright solo excursions by bassist Matt Clohesy, Gordon (on soprano again) and then vocalese from Kristin Berardi. Bloom benefits from a gorgeous string arrangement and intro that builds to a big crescendo with the horns going full steam, then back down into a verdant Wayland solo and a sweeping outro. The most memorable track here, Veil opens with characteristic directness yet with an undercurrent of suspense (Messiaen comes to mind) with balmy alto, warm Wayland piano and strings. The album winds up with the clever Individuation, an exercise in circumnavigation rather than interplay where the individual voices flutter above the ambient wash of the strings, kicked off with an unabashedly joyous Gordon alto solo. Sneak this into the mix at your parents’ house, if music isn’t their thing, and they’ll never notice. Sneak it into the mix at a friend’s place and halfway through watch the ears perk up: what are we listening to, anyway?

December 8, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment