Lucid Culture


Melissa Aldana Brings Her Simmering Intensity to the Charlie Parker Festival

This year’s concluding installment of the annual Charlie Parker Festival, which returns to Tompkins Square Park on August 28, has something for everyone. Purist postbop guitarist Pasquale Grasso, who continues the tradition in a Peter Bernstein vein, opens at 3 with his group. At 4, swing trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg revisits an era from a decade or two before. Representing newer styles, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana brings many different levels of meaning with her group at 5. A multi-generational band including sax legend Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran with the irrepressible and brilliant Cecile Mclorin Salvant on vocals close out the show.

Aldana is the wild card in this deck. In recent years the scion of a major Chilean jazz legacy has fine-tuned a laser focus that has always been far more American than latin simply because that’s where her interests seem to be. There, and the tarot deck, which she explores musically on her latest album 12 Stories, streaming at youtube. It’s a relentlessly unsettled, distantly haunting record, a potent reflection on a society at the brink of a totalitarian abyss. The level of control, yet also the microtonal woundedness in Aldana’s attack, will hold you rapt in many places here.

She opens the first number, Falling, with a simmering, brooding intensity, underscored by guitarist Lage Lund’s icily ominous chords and pianist Sullivan Fortner’s judicious, incisive accents in tandem with bassist Pablo Menares as drummer Kush Abadey chews the scenery. Aldana’s clustering modalities finally give way to a characteristic phantasmagorical flourish and then a similarly uneasy solo from Fortner.

Aldana follows a similar template with the second number, Intuition, this time working the upper registers as the rhythm section punch in and out with an enigmatic tension. Lund provides a surreal, lingering solo intro to Emilia, a delicately spare ballad, carefully moving the clouds away as Fortner builds an enigmatically reflective gleam on Fender Rhodes. This time it’s Aldana, with her steady lines, who resists any hint of resolution.

The rhythm section play tug-of-war as Aldana strolls with a pensive, bittersweet intensity through the beginning of The Bluest Eye. Finally, she lightens with a series of increasingly ebullient spirals, Fortner playing sly leaps and bounds much as he does with Salvant. Lund’s percolating solo fuels a darkly swirling coda that fades out almost cruelly – we know how this ends, but the details would be helpful!

The Fool – a reference to the tarot card, which is actually a rugged individualist archetype – has a moody sway, Fortner and Lund’s allusively churning bolero over Abadey’s grimly triumphant, crescendoing drive. Aldana chooses her spots on the way out.

Los Ojos de Chile is the most animated number here, Fortner rising out of variations on a cheery riff with his usual saturnine energy, Lund setting up Aldana’s determined drive out. The hazy title tableau leaves the listener wondering what’s coming next: may we all survive to hear Aldana’s next album after this brilliant, career-best collection.


August 21, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Artful, Ambitious, Optimistic Album From Bassist Adi Meyerson

One of the most ambitious jazz releases of the past several months is bassist Adi Meyerson‘s album I Want to Sing My Heart Out in Praise of Life, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a six-part suite based on the colorful, molecularly inspired art of Yayoi Kusama. Meyerson, who has synesthesia, experienced a burst of inspiration when she first discovered Kusama’s work, not only in terms of melodic ideas, but from the artist’s concept of creating a utopian space where everyone is welcome.

The opening prelude sets the stage, with Meyerson’s stark bowing, flickering, circling harmonics and the mystical vocals of Sabeth Perez and Camille Thurman building an Indian-inspired sonic womb behind spoken word artist Eden Girma’s benediction. She speaks of dark moments, wreckage and sacrificial lambs, but also finding peace and redemption. That we all may be so lucky.

A spare, lithe bass groove alternates with airy lushness in Kabocha – Japanese for “pumpkin” -whose raw materials are based on a sample of Kusama reading her poem On Pumpkins. Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet, Marquis Hill’s trumpet, Anne Drummond’s flute and Sam Towse’s spare electronic keys float in en masse, then diverge animatedly, drummer Kush Abadey subtly building percolating funk under Drummond’s triumphant solo.

Follow the Red Dot has a lickety-split, vaudevillian swing drive emerging from a brief conversation between Hill and Pino, hints of New Orleans, a febrile but spacious trumpet solo and a spare, fragmentary piano solo. Meyerson draws on a wry, controversial 1965 Kusama installation which is essentially a gently cartoonish precursor to an infamous H.R. Giger work. DKs fans, you know it!

Thurman moves to the mic for Caged Bird, quoting from both Maya Angelou and Angela Davis before launching into Meyerson’s playful, optimistic, metaphorically loaded lyric, the band pulsing and bouncing behind her. With lively solos from Drummond and Pino’s clarinet, it could be an Alice Lee tune with a beefier backdrop and more syncopation.

Infinity, the album’s big epic, draws on Kusama’s dizzying Infinity Mirror Rooms. The theme is self-examination, Meyerson taking her time launching into a cheery solo dance to introduce Perez’s lustrously atmospheric vocalese, giving way to a sparkling piano solo as Abadey inserts deft polyrhythms. Hill’s victoriously flaring solo and Towse’s incisive chords wind it down elegantly.

The album’s final cut is the title track, a reverent, spacious piano ballad with Thurman on vocals, “For those who seek a better place.” Meyerson definitely feels our pain! Her next free-state gig is on April 1 at half past noon at the Gene Harris Jazz Festival in Boise, Idaho. And Pino has an upcoming gig at Smalls – where there are no restrictions – on March 23, with sets by his eclectic, dynamic No No Nonet at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

March 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wild Night at Smalls with Trombone Legend Frank Lacy

Trombonist/singer Frank Lacy is the extrovert star of the Mingus bands. He also leads his own groups. His latest album, Live at Smalls captures him with an inspired, straight-ahead postbop band – Josh Evans on trumpet, Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, Theo Hill on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass and Kush Abadey, this unit’s not-so-secret weapon, on drums – on parts of two hot nights in mid-October, 2012 on their home turf. Lacy can be much more avant garde than he is here: this is a showcase for lively interplay, pitch-and-follow and blazing gutbucket jazz-lounge entertainment. You can feel the heat: Ben Rubin’s engineering on this record puts you right there in the room. They celebrate the album’s release at the club on May 6 at 10:30 PM; cover is $20 which includes a beverage.

For Lacy, this is more of a showcase for leading a band than it is for blazing solos (after all, he can do that anytime he wants). And he’s a generous leader: the two most electrifying solos on the album belong to Evans – choosing his spots up to a series of wickedly rapidfire spirals on a steady, briskly strolling take of Charles Fambrough’s Alicia – and Dillard, soaring and sliding and throwing in some shivery doublestops on soprano sax on Lacy’s own gospel-infleced Spirit Monitor. Lacy also gives a characteristically witty clinic in how to pull the band out of a lull a little earlier during that tune.

Lacy’s also a distinctive singer, with a gritty falsetto that’s just as powerful as his lower register. It’s too bad that there’s only one vocal number here, Carolyn’s Dance, a series of long crescendos for the band members as Abadey rides the traps with all sorts of neat, unexpected jabs and crashes.

Dilllard’s boisterous bluesiness contrasts with Lacy’s more judicious attack on the summery, funky sway of Joe Bonner’s Sunbath. Lacy’s opening track, Stranded, works a catchy, chromatically-charged altered latin groove up to a tireless swing, a launching pad for everybody in the band. They follow that with a lustrous take of George Cables’ bossa-tinged Think on Me. They wind up the album with a good choice of closer, Freddie Hubbard’s The Intrepid Fox where Evans predictably gets called on to deliver the firepower and makes it look easy as the band swings it breathlessly. It’s surprising that more venues don’t do what Smalls does, recording all their shows (they have a subscription service for that) and releasing the creme de la creme on their Smalls Live label. Then again, Smalls takes the idea of community more seriously than most venues.

May 1, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment