Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dan Blake Offers Hope in the Midst of Terror on His Powerfully Relevant New Album

Saxophonist Dan Blake‘s new album Da Fé – streaming at Bandcamp – isn’t just a brilliant, darkly picturesque, tuneful record: it’s an important one. Blake has gone to great lengths to capture much of the perilous state of the world, 2021. And as grim as so many of the themes here are, with plenty of gallows humor, ultimately this is optimistic. We’re going to get through this, even if it takes us a lot of work, Blake seems to say. He’s got a fantastic band: Carmen Staaf on piano, Dmitry Ishenko on bass, and Jeff Williams on drums with Leo Genovese adding both piano and multi-keys. The ensemble seem much larger than they are in places since Blake overdubs himself frequently for extra intensity.

Staaf builds an increasingly bewildering, creepy belltone ambience in her solo introduction, A New Normal: clearly Blake is wise to the inhumanity of the lockdowners’ totalitarian schemes.

Cry of the East, dedicated to the Palestinian people, begins as an edgily modal Coltrane-inspired jazz waltz, Blake multitracking a sax chorus overhead, Staaf following with a sagacious blues-infused solo setting up the bandleader’s angst-fueled, trilling crescendo. Blake sticks with the soprano sax in Like Fish in Puddles, at first flurrying if not actually flappping around, over a hypnotically energetic backdrop. Staaf signals the first cautious moves out of the trap, Blake an insistent voice of reason overhead; the squall and surreal synth flickers as tension mounts aptly captures the past year’s relentless anxiety.

The next number is simply titled Pain, Genovese building an increasingly macabre, echoey pool beneath Blake’s circles and cries. The band rise to a dissociative, grimly bluesy sway from there, part somber Coltrane, part menacing Messiaen. The Grifter is a brilliantly constructed portrait of a guy who seems like a real blithe spirit, but as Staaf and the rest of the band quickly make clear, that orange wig can’t conceal what’s lurking underneath. Blake’s solo at the end is too good to give away.

The Cliff comes across as a sardonic mashup of Monk and modal Miles: well, you needn’t go over the edge, Blake seems to say with his multitracks over the rhythm section’s terse syncopation and bracing scrambles. Dr. Armchair is the album’s most cynical track: this guy keeps flogging the same dead horse even as his logic doesn’t stand up, Staaf taking charge of the demolition with relish. This person could just as easily be someone you know, or someone on tv.

The album’s title track is not a bossa or a samba but instead begins as a surreal, sci-fi tableau of sax and synthy squiggles, answered by the band’s ruggedly Monkish melodicism, up to a long, sharp-fanged Blake alto solo. The album’s epilogue is It Heals Itself, a disquieted tone poem of sorts. Blake’s soprano sax still channels a persistent pain, but his layers of melody seems to offer a very guarded hope as the group sway patiently behind him. One of the most relevant and musically rich albums of 2021 in any style of music.

March 15, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uri Gurvich Brings His Fiery Latin and Middle Eastern-Influenced Jazz to a Cozy Saturday Night Spot

Kinship, the latest release by saxophonist Uri Gurvich and his quartet, is a rarity in jazz these days: a concept album. The central theme is connections: familial, ancestral, cultural and musical. Gurvich also deals with issues of non-belonging, including racism and discrimination. Musically, it’s extremely ambitious, with influences spanning from Argentine and Israeli folk, the Middle East and the Balkans. This album – streaming at Soundcloud – doesn’t have the white-knuckle intensity of Gurvich’s landmark 2013 Middle Eastern jazz collection, BabEL, but its scope is even more global. Gurvich is playing a rare trio date comprising three quarters of the quartet, with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Francisco Mela, at the Bar Next Door on Dec 16, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $12.

Pianist Leo Genovese’s glittering chords and Mela’s majestic cymbals anchor Gurvich’s tenderly gliding and swirling lines in the rhythmically shifting ballad Song for Kate, a dedication to his wife. Slavov’s leaping bass kicks off Dance of the Ñañigos, which shifts between an uneasy, altered boogie and more jaunty latin Caribbean tinges, inspired by a 19th century Afro-Cuban secret society.

Guest singer Bernardo Palumbo opens El Chubut with a harrowing poem written in the 1970s by a captive at that notorious Argentine torture site, then gives it a similarly plaintive edge over a moody waltz that elegantly shifts meters. The Argentine-Israeli Gurvich’s balmy lines seem to offer hope over Genovese’s gritty gleam.

Twelve Tribes is a gorgeously cantering mashup of moody Israeli riffage and stark blues over a circling, qawalli-ish groove, Mela shifting the ambience toward Cuba as he throws off sparks during a tantalizingly brief solo midway through. Im Tirtzi, a slinky cover of a 1970s Sasha Argov Israeli pop ballad, gets a gracefully shuflfing bolero rhythm and a low-key staccato solo from Slavov.

Gurvich makes a soaring soprano sax-infused jazz waltz out of the old spiritual Go Down Moses, whose “let my people go” message has significance far beyond its African-American and Jewish roots. Genovese’s energetically sun-dappled lines duet with Gurvich’s calm, summery sax throughout the album’s title track

Gurvich and Genovese spin off allusively Middle Eastern lines over Mela’s lithely churning rhythm in Blue Nomad. Hermetos – a Hermeto Pascual homage – is another dizzying cross-genre blend, Genovese spiraling and rippling from the Amazon across the Caribbean and back, then trading off with the bandleader. Ha’im Ha’im closes the album, rising from Slavov’s murkily insistent bass intro to a steady midtempo swing, Gurvich alluding to Coltrane, mining for inner blues in another 1970s Argov pop ballad.

December 14, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rapt Atmospherics from Arooj Aftab and a Tantalizing Vijay Iyer Cameo at Merkin Hall

What’s karmic payback for walking out of a Vijay Iyer show? Losing a recording of the most awestruck, rivetingly beautiful concert of the year, for starters – that, and missing out on most of a performance by this era’s most distinctive and arguably most influential pianist. Vijay, if you’re reading this, don’t take it personally. This blog’s proprietor once walked out on Pauline Oliveros too.

Not that she wasn’t great. It’s just that sometimes the demands of running a blog don’t always coincide with having a life. Saturday night at Merkin Concert Hall, it was at least good to get to see a rapturous, often mesmerizing performance by Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab leading a quartet including pianist Leo Genovese, drummer Jorn Bielfeldt and synth player Yusuke Yamamoto through what seemed to be a largely improvisational suite.

Singing mostly vocalese in a cool, hushed, nuanced mezzo-soprano, Aftab ran her vocals through a series of effects for additional subtlety, adding reverb or looping her phrasing, mostly for the sake of rhythmic shifts. Genovese played the show of his life. Since Aftab’s ghazal-inspired tone poems don’t often shift key and typically eschew western harmony, the pianist assembled an eerily glittering architecture out of passing tones, first bringing to mind Bill Mays playing Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks themes, then raising the ante to white-knuckle terror in places. Although there was one interlude where Genovese took a long, energetic solo, he held back from going against the current and trying to make postbop out of Aftab’s pensive atmospherics…or taking the easy route and hanging back with open fifths and octaves.

Bielfeldt also played with remarkable and intuitive restraint. Toward the end, he and Genovese exchanged coyly conversational riffs as the music swelled, but otherwise he was all about the lustre. Under these circumstances, having a synth in the band usually spells disaster, but Yamamoto turned out to be a magic ingredient with his deep-space washes of chords and the occasional elegant synth bass riff.

After a roughly forty-minute set, Aftab brought out Iyer for a duo as the encore. It seemed at this point that for a pianist, following Genovese would be just plain cruel, considering how he’d just mined every macabre tonality in the keys and the overtone system. But Iyer went in a more optimistic direction, opting for an approach that was both more hypnotically rhythmic and minimalist, while airing out similar resonance from the overtones. Watching him think on his feet with a much more limited choice of options than usual was rewarding; sticking around for his own set would no doubt have been twice as fun. Iyer is currently on tour; he’ll be back in New York on May 9 leading a sextet through a week at the Vanguard.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy Intensity on Sara Serpa and Andre Matos’ New Duo Album

Sara Serpa is one of the most distinctive voices in any style of music, and widely regarded as the most original vocalist in jazz. A protegee of legendary noir pianist Ran Blake, vocalese is her thing. She doesn’t often sing lyrics, preferring the role of instrumentalist. But what an instrumentalist! Her hauntingly clear, crystalline soprano made the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra’s debut album one of the most arresting releases of this past year. She’s got a new duo album, Primavera, with her partner, guitarist/tunesmith Andre Matos and an album release show May 22 at 8 PM at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village on an excellent doublebill with the similarly inclined Emilie Weibel, who’s releasing her playfully quirky oMoO solo vocal project.

Serpa’s earlier compositions are meticulously constructed, and more shapeshifting and longscale than the terse pieces here. The album opens with the title track, a loopy vocal phrase underpinned by uneasy guitar, down to a lull and then up with a dancing crescendo. Tempo, the first of Matos’ compositions here, is a guarded waltz, a horror film theme minus the strings. It’s good to see Serpa asserting herself as a pianist – on this track, on Fender Rhodes – as well a a singer.

Rios, another Matos number, is a catchy waltz, the opposite of the previous number, but just as catchy, lit up by some frenetic melodica from Leo Genovese. Choro, also by Matos, juxtaposes flitty guitar and Greg Osby soprano sax against Serpa’s resolute vocals. A Serpa original, Kubana is just plain amazing, her soaring, multitracked vocals harmonizing with Matos’ understatedly gorgeous, jangly chords all the way up to a haunting, anthemic conclusion.

Another Serpa original, Song for a Sister is a warm, springlike number, Matos’ spacious, methodical interlude giving way to gently dreamy, shimmery vocals. Caminho, by Matos, brings back a brooding, waltzing theme, a Lynchian summer theme that darkens as it goes along.

Matos and Serpa join for restrained, almost skeletal settings of Alberto Caeiro poems, then Serpa’s Novem works a circular theme that goes swinging with a hypnotic piano/guitar vamp – it’s Wes Montgomery noir, if such a thing can exist. They reinvent the Ran Blake/Jeanne Lee classic, Vanguard, as a spaciously unwinding, uneasily matter-of-fact theme, expanding beyond the luminous mystery of the original. Gardening, by Matos, cleverly morphs from a canon to a dance over a catchy, nonchalant guitar loop. They do Guillermo Klein’s Se Me Va La Luz as an insistent anthem fueled by Matos’ percussive chords and close with a bluesy Serpa setting of an E.E. Cummings [Ha Ha, So There] poem in the same spare, resonant vein as Tin Hat’s versions of that poet’s stuff from a couple of years ago. Up to this point, intensity has been Serpa’s great shining quality; as spare, and sometimes low-key, and fun as this album is, she hasn’t relented, and Matos keeps pace all the way.

May 17, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uri Gurvich’s Articulate BabEl: State of the Art Middle Eastern Jazz

Saxophonist Uri Gurvich’s BabEl, out earlier this year from Tzadik, blends Middle Eastern influences into jazz with a rich, often majestic power. It’s one of the best albums of 2013..The ensemble here is the core of drummer Francisco Mela’s group, Gurvich out front of Mela, bassist Peter Slavov and pianist Leo Genovese and guest oudist Brahim Frigbane.

They waste no time going deep into a brooding desert mode with a Fribgane taqsim on the intro to the evocative Pyramids, Gurvich’s bitingly bright alto over a dancing rhythm. It’s half a step removed from what could otherwise be a droll Mexican folk melody – but that half step makes all the difference as they ride a long, darkly triumphant vamp out. Dervish Dance works a catchy, Joe Jackson-ish latin tune over a spiraling rhythm, Gurvich’s spiraling chromatics handing off to a dusky piano/bass/drums rumble.

Nedudim – Hebrew for “Journeys” – maintans the modal intensity over dancing rhythm and a terse Genovese piano vamp. After yet another biting Gurvich solo, Genovese – now on organ – takes it into phantasmagorical Ray Manzarek territory. Alfombra Magica follows that and keeps the magic going, a launching pad for subtly dark thematic variations from Gurvich and a coyly terse Slavov solo.

Scalerica de Oro jazzes up a Ladino folk tune and gets more interesting as it goes along, with repeated dynamic shifts and a Genovese organ solo played through a wah for extra surrealism. The Hagiga Suite works its way from apprehensively circling atmospherics to a spine-tingling, spiraling Gurvich solo, Genovese’s nonchalantly hard-hitting solo winding down to a fade. A jazz waltz, Camelao pairs off Genovese’s machinegunning piano with Gurvich’s calming cool. The album ends with the reflective, moody Valley of the Kings, Gurvich running lithe variations on a catchy Middle Eastern pop hook as the band switches up the rhythm underneath. This is only a capsule and really doesn’t do justice to the kind of animated teamwork that Mela and Slavov build together, or to Genovese’s gritty blend of Argentinian and Levantine flavors, both which reveal themselves more and more with repeated listening.

July 18, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment