Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cécile McLorin Salvant Brings Phantasmagoria and Depth to the Blue Note on the 20th

Cécile McLorin Salvant is the most original and unpredictably entertaining jazz vocalist in the world right now. Much as watching a webcast is no substitute for being there, her livestream from the Detroit Jazz Festival about a week ago was off the hook. She’s bringing her richly conceptual, shapeshifting show to a week at the Blue Note starting on Sept 20 and continuing through 25th, with sets at 8 and 10:30 PM. You can get in for $30.

Her latest album Ghost Song – streaming at Bandcamp – reflects her vast, panoramic, insatiably eclectic view of what she can transform into jazz, as well as the unselfconscious depth, existential poignancy but also the phantasmagorical thrills she brings to her music.

She opens the record with a reverb-washed duo take of Kate Bush’s teenage art-rock anthem Wuthering Heights with bassist Paul Sikivie, one part Scottish folk, one part Hildegard von Bingen.

The music gets pretty wild as the band come in with Salvant’s medley of a surreal, shapeshifting, banjo-fueled take of the Harold Arlen swing tune Optimistic Voices juxtaposed with a slow, balmy soul version of Gregory Porter’s No Love Dying. Alexa Tarantino’s wafting flute recedes for Sullivan Fortner’s hovering, distantly gospel-tinged piano over Keita Ogawa’s percussion

Salvant reaches for the rafters with a shivery, rustic blues intensity to kick off her title track, rising from shivery Marvin Sewell blues guitar to creepily cheery Lynchian 50s pop: imagine Carol Lipnik singing something from the Hairspray soundtrack. The girls of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus take over with an aptly otherworldly pavane on the way out.

Another Salvant original, Obligation, begins with a sarcastic, lickety-split Broadway-esque scamper and quickly becomes an understatedly harrowing portrait of what amounts to rape. Fortner gives it an aptly sinister outro. Gordon Sumner’s Until makes a good segue, Tarantino’s flute rising with an eerie tropicality over Fortner’s stabbing syncopation and Ogawa’s elegantly brushy rhythm.

Salvant plays piano, joined by Aaron Diehl on distantly whirling pipe organ in I Lost My Mind, a tersely carnivalesque, loopy mid 70s Peter Gabriel-style art-rock tableau. Diehl switches to his usual piano on Moon Song, a slowly unwinding Salvant ballad spiced with biting Satie-esque chromatics over drummer Kyle Poole’s whispery brushes.

Back at the piano, Salvant follows an increasingly sinister, ragtime-inflected, loopy stroll in the instrumental Trail Mix. The band return for a suspenseful, cynically protean romp through the Brecht/Weill cabaret tune The World Is Mean: what a theme for post-March 2020 hell!

Daniel Swenberg adds lute and theorbo to Dead Poplar, Salvant’s pastoral setting of the text of a metaphorically loaded, embittered letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Georgia O’Keefe. Salvant goes back to wise, knowing, summery 70s soul in Thunderclouds and closes the record with a soaring a-cappella version of the folk song Unquiet Grave, letting the grisly lyrics speak for themselves. It would be an understatement to count this as one of the dozen or so best jazz albums of the past twelve months.

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September 15, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brianna Thomas Takes Her Soulful Sound to the Next Level

Buoyed by an endorsement from Will Friedwald, the guy who wrote the book on jazz singing, Brianna Thomas’ career was in full swing while she was still in college. But she’s always been more than a purist, elegant jazz singer. Anybody who’s ever heard her sing blues or gospel knows how badass, and funny, she can be. Her new album Everybody Knows – streaming at Spotify – is a real change of pace for her, in terms of the jazz, which is heavy on the ballads in addition to other styles beyond the idiom. It’s been a dark year; this is a pretty dark record, and Thomas’ voice will haunt you long after it’s over.

Conun Pappas pulls the sustain bar all the way out on the Rhodes, hovering above guitarist Marvin Sewell’s gritty, circling funk riffage in the album’s opening number, Since I Fell For You. Thomas’ impassioned, insistent vocals match the bite of his bluesmetal solo midway through.

“How deep can a hole in your soul go, how far back can you look to find a clue?” she ponders in How Much Forgiveness, a slowly crescendoing pop ballad, bassist Ryan Berg tiptoeing over Pappas’ shimmery piano chords. Those two players edge their way into the noir-tinged It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie with a similar terseness, Thomas working a mysterious, aching ambience up to a tantalizingly allusive scatting solo; Sewell’s austere, darkly bluesy lines fill out the picture.

She keeps the nocturnal vibe going with a slow, latin soul-tinged, rising and falling take of My Foolish Heart. Once again, Pappas’ starry chords provide a vivid backdrop, building to Thomas’ throaty crescendo.

Fueled by the shifting rhythms of drummer Kyle Poole and percussionist Fernando Saci along with Thomas’ gritty insistence, the band reinvent the old 60s Gerry & the Pacemakers hit Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying as a bustling, defiant anthem. By contrast, I Belong to You is a lusciously Lynchian latin noir mood piece that Sewell hits out of the park with his grim chromatics.

It Had to Be You gets remade as 70s boudoir soul, fueled by Pappas’ twinkly Rhodes and Sewell’s purist Memphis riffs and fills. The hokum blues My Stove’s in Good Condition is irresistibly fun: Sewell goes deep into his hometown Chicago blues riffbag , and the bandleader turns it into what could be the album’s title track. Or maybe one of a pair.

Sewell gets ghostly with his slide in the dirgey take of Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues, a lauching pad for Thomas’ mix of nuance and full-throttle intensity. It’s a shock that more singers haven’t covered the Nina Simone classic Mississippi Goddamn, a protest song which is sadly just as relevant in 2020 as it was during the Civil Rights era. This group’s shapeshifting, crushingly cynical remake, part wah funk, part chilling oldschool soul, will rip your face off.

They close the record on an upbeat note with an impassioned, blues-infused, Allen Toussaint-esque version of The More I See You. History may judge this a career-defining album by one of this era’s most dynamic voices in jazz, and a lot of other styles too.

November 9, 2020 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wild, Ferociously Lyrical Take on the History of Jazz Uptown

The Manhattan debut of the multimedia spectacle The Spirit of Harlem at Harlem School of the Arts this past evening was everything the final night of the Charlie Parker Festival wasn’t: cutting-edge, fearlessly political and often very funny. And trumpeter Dominick Farinacci’s lavish ensemble didn’t even venture beyond the classics, tunewise. On one hand, songs like Strange Fruit are eternal for a reason. On the other, it’s seldom that a band is able to reinvent them in a way that does justice either to the spirit or the quality of the original.

After Farinacci introduced that haunting number solo, setting a mood more pitchblende than indigo, Shenel Johns sang Abel Meeropol’s chronicle of a lynching with a Nina Simone-like steeliness, in a stark duet with bassist Jonathan Michel. Dapperly dressed rapper Orlando Watson – whose slashing metaphors and intricate flow unearthed innumerable connections between the history of jazz, the New Jim Crow, Black Lives Matter and other historical moments – would reference that song later on, a hybrid kind of fruit still hanging from the poplar trees.

The Spirit of Harlem, which Farinacci put together at the annual upstate Catskill Jazz Factory festival, debuted in Italy just last week, The symphonic part of the evening – with tight, inspired student ensemble the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra – turned out to be a world premiere, the entire cast pulling it together in rehearsal about three hours before showtime.

The show’s premise is to bring jazz history out of world of pedants and snobs, with unexpected new interpretations and a focus on legendary Harlem jazz shrines. Tapdancer Michela Marino Lerman dueled it out with pianist Mathias Picard, through an increasingly complicated series of stride tunes that ended with a feral take of Tiger Rag. She clearly won the early part of this cutting contest, but Picard really gave her a run for the money with a diabolically fast coda that would have made Art Tatum proud.

Not everything was a total reinvention, but even the more standard interpretations were a lot of fun. The group – which also included vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, tenor saxophonist Patrick Bartley Jr., and drummer Kyle Poole – romped through a phantasmagorical version of Minnie the Moocher that left no doubt what Minnie was smoking. Likewise, Bartley’s eerie duotones and Middle Eastern-tinged wails in tandem with Poole’s shamanistic attack in A Night in Tunisia – which then segued into Dizzy Atmosphere – conjured up the spirit of the early bebop sessions several blocks to the south at Minton’s.

Bartley and Picard got bittersweet and lyrical with a Monk medley beginning with a fleeting excerpt from Pannonica followed by a somewhat furtive take of Round Midnight. After a lavishly orchestrated, rather sentimental new salute to impresario Norman Granz, the entire cast made a quick coda out of Sing Sing Sing. If jazz is your thing, even if you find this material moldy and figgy, Watson’s lyrical firepower and the irrepressible fun of the rest of the show will win you over.

August 27, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment