Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Breathtaking, Epic Debut Album From the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra

There hasn’t been a debut big band jazz album on as ambitious a level as the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra’s initial release, Em.Perience (streaming at Spotify) in a long time. Maybe since Asuka Kakitani’s similarly symphonic first record. The vast scope of the saxophonist/singer/bandleader’s ideas, her lush East African-inspired melodicism and outside-the-box arrangements will sweep you off your feet. To compare a lot of this to Darcy James Argue and Maria Schneider would not be overhype. Albums like this are what people who run music blogs live for. Mantwill has an exceptional ear for textures and a penchant for unusual pairings of instruments, and alludes to an amazingly eclectic range of influences without aping any of them.

The first sparkling riffs over the lush string section on the first song, a lavish arrangement of Becca Stevens’ Ophelia, are from Milena Hoge’s harp. After the second chorus, a spiky Portuguese guitar takes over. Stormy low brass kicks in beneath muted trumpet and orchestral percussion, foreshadowing the moment when the wounded warrior gazes into the ocean, sees the suicide girl’s ghost and decides life is worth living after all. It’s part Moody Blues, part Gil Evans, part Nico’s Chelsea Girl with a singer who hits all the notes. What a way to open the record.

The rest of it is almost all Mantwill compositions, the first titled Pjujeck. Trombonist Nils Landgren kicks it off, hard, answered tersely by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, the strings ushering in the most vastly expansive, exuberant dance theme you will hear this year. The two soloists engage in a funky upward drive, Landgren’s jaunty New Orleans-isms eventually giving way to Rosenwinkel’s surreal, 180-degree detour into deep-space ambience, which Mantwill ties up in a neat package at the end.

She sings in Swahili in Sasa Ndio Sasa (Here and Now), inspired by her travels in East Africa. A suspenseful, droning bass intro bows out for a bouncily hypnotic, circling rondo featuring the “Tanzanian Kids Choir.” As symphonic African music, it brings to mind Toumani Diabate’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, although Mantwill’s composition is somewhat more intricate, from Maria Reich’s warily kinetic viola solo, to Rosenwinkel’s EWI-like envelope-pedal solo, to the jubilantly cantering coda.

Erwachen (German for “Awakening”) is a lavish, balmy Isle of Skye seascape, Mantwill’s sax looking back to a famous 70s ballad: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly beautiful interlude. Marcio Doctor’s shamanic percussion and vibraphone fuel the dynamically expansive Serengeti-scape Kumbukumbu, flugelhornist Konstantin Döben adding a resonant but enigmatic solo before the group shift toward a string-infused pulse that brings to mind McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind.

The lively African-flavored rhythms and riffs continue in Triology. The addition of steel pan in contrast to Daniel Buch’s chuffing baritone sax is an especially clever touch, as is the bari/bass/drums breakdown in the middle, Morphine on whippits.

Tilmann Dehnhard’s alto flute sprouts, afloat in what’s left of the snows in Melodie de la Riviere. a French Riviera early spring tableau. Yet even here, there’s a circling, mutedly leaping African rhythm, Hoge introducing baroque austerity in her solo harp interlude, Döben’s steady, calm flugelhorn following to signal a determined, verdant crescendo. They tiptoe their way out.

The album’s final number is Festival at High Noon, by Megan Ndale, which may have been inspired by a music festival in Nepal but sounds more distinctly Tanzanian or Kenyan…and then Balkan. Violist Reich reaches to the bottom of her register and then swoops skyward, bristling with reverb; tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel memorably follows that same pattern. This is the top contender for best jazz debut of 2021 so far.

May 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orrin Evans Celebrates the Release of One of His Best Albums at the Jazz Standard

Pianist Orrin Evans is in the midst of a weekend stand at the Jazz Standard, with shows tonight and tomorrow night, Nov 19 nnd 20 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25.. The captain of the epic Captain Black Big Band also has a fantastic new album, Knowing Is Half the Battle, just out and streaming at Spotify. What’s new is that it’s a two-guitar record, Kevin Eubanks and Kurt Rosenwinkel joining Evans,bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. And what’s most impressive about it is that even though it’s one of the most highly improvisational albums of Evans’ career, nobody gets in anybody’s way. The twin-guitar attack follows much the same bad cop/good cop dichotomy as Marc Ribot’s live album with Mary Halvorson – Eubanks employing a round, sustained tone with frequent EFX, Rosenwinkel with more of a clean tube amp sound that burns with distortion when he wails on his chords. Although Eubanks’ most woozy textures hark back to fusion, this isn’t a fusion record

Don’t let the weird, trippy, techy intro put you off: it’s the setup to the punchilne that ends the album, which is way too good to give away. It opens slowly as Calls coalesces – one of the freest numbers here, it’s a floating platform for carefree exploraion that sets the stage for the guitar dynamic. The way Whitfield just blasts through the stoplight and keeps going is one of the album’s most irresistible moments.

When Jen Came In is a cool modal latin thing, romping along in 6/8 with Evans and Whitfield throwing elbows in the paint, the guitars shadowing each other up to one of those lustrously poignant peaks that has become an Evans trademark. The pensive, expansive jazz waltz Chiara (Italian for “clear”) – gets a purposeful belltone chord intro from Rosenwinkel, Eubanks taking a horn role; then it goes in a similarly impactful, moody direction fueled by Evans’ sunshower lines. These two numbes make a good diptych.

The take of David Bowie’s Kooks rises out of peekaboo piano-drums drollery toward tropicalia, with a soulful vocal by songbird M’Balia, who makes a return on a trip-hop ballad toward the end of the record. The funky, pulsing You Don’t Need a License to Drive gives Rosenwinkel a launching pad for some of the album’s most bristling work, Evans working a more playful tip. Whitfield’s insistent cymbals and prowling attack on the toms fuel Half the Battle, much like he does on most of the other numbers: it’s a classic hard-hitting Evans mood piece brightened with Eubanks’ high-flying, sustained lines.

Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown, a tone poem awash in keening guitar textures, builds toward uneasy, clustering chaos and then back. The considerably more upbeat Doc’s Holida, opens with guest saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis in unison with the guitars and then goes strolling, one of ghe few instances where the bandleader takes the spotlight, his restlessly crescendoing intensity over Curtis’ leaping, growly bass.

The swinging Slife is a vehicle for some deliciously slippery, slamming guitar from Rosenwinkel and contrastingly tight, jaunty piano from Evans. The final cut is a gently funky lullaby of sorts. It says a lot that what’s probably the most lighthearted album of Evans’ career is anything but lightweight.

November 19, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Restrictions on Great Tunesmithing From Iris Ornig

Bassist Iris Ornig’s latest album No Restrictions has a lot to offer: translucent compositions, terse arrangements, purposeful playing. It has a lot in common with pianist Danny Green’s latest release (recently reviewed here), a tuneful mix of tropically-tinged romps and ballads. The cast of musicians alongside Ornig – Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Helen Sung on piano, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet and Marcus Gilmore on drums – embraces the bassist’s welcoming melodicism as well as her fondness for Brazilian rhythms and tones. Ornig doesn’t solo much, but when she does, even that is catchy, which pretty much sums up this album.

The understatedly jaunty, bossa-flavored ballad Autumn kiss opens, Rodriguez fluttering warmly over a rich chordal groove, Rosenwinkel’s terse sostenuto picking up and then going flying. Likewise, the distantly gospel-tinged ballad We Shall Meet Beyond the River is a showcase for Rodriguez’ warmly sustained, soulful approach, Gimore’s hushed brushes whispering behind Ornig’s judicious, incisive drive.

The upbeat Venus As a Boy works a catchy guitar hook over a bossa pulse spiced with coyly pouncing piano/bass riffage, a hard-hitting but nimble Sung solo folllowed by Rosenwinkel cartwheels. The title track, another bright bossa tune, has Sung dancing and then handing off to Rodriguez’ incisive shuffle. If Anything Goes Wrong, a trio piece, opens with a long, lyrical, gorgeously tender solo piano intro. Finally, Ornig takes a solo, tiptoeing judiciously over Sung’s gleaming embers, handing off to a similarly rhythmic piano solo that engages Gilmore’s lithe cymbals – and then Sung continues the upward arc with variations on the bass solo.

The Way You Make Me Feel works its way from steady swing to an Afro-Cuban groove, Rodriguez nonchalantly building his solo from carefully spaced pulses, Ornig bouncing and prancing through hers with bluesy horn voicings. Gate 29, a funky, nocturnal shuffle that would work as a quirky film or tv theme, has a neatly concealed exchange between Ornig and Sung following soulfully crescendoing Rodriguez and Rosenwinkel solos, Spark of Light, a pulsing, anthemic clave tune, alternates lush orchestration with a direct hookiness carried by the trumpet and then the guitar. The closing track, Uptight (a sarcastic title if there ever was one) works a relaxed, funky swing, Ornig’s prominent, woodtoned swing lines and solo anchoring Rosenwinkel’s wry, restrained yet pillowy chords and accents.  There’s also an absolutely gorgeous, alternate version of the title cut with a more relaxed, sustained guitar drive to it. It’s one of the most consistently enjoyable albums of the past several months. Ornig is at the Garage with her band on March 24 at around midnight.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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