Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Glimmering, Cross-Pollinated Masterpiece from Saxophonist Ochion Jewell

In prosaic terms, tenor saxophonist Ochion Jewell‘s second album, Volk – streaming at Bandcamp – is Ghanian music reinventors the Bedstuy Ewe Ensemble playing moody third-stream jazz. And it’s often as far from that group’s joyous exuberance as you can possibly imagine. The band’s multicultural personnel – Moroccan pianist and Dawn of Midi founder Amino Belyamani, Persian-American bassist Sam Minaie, and Pakistani-American drummer Qasim Naqvi – join their bandmate in a magnificently ambered tour de force. The album’s backstory is troubling, but has a happy ending – more or less – taking inspiration (and financed by the settlement Jewell received) from a police brutality lawsuit stemming from a harrowing brush with death at the hands of an undercover NYPD narcotics squad run amok a couple of years ago. Drawing on idioms as diverse as Persian classsical music, pensive Keith Jarrett-style improvisation and elements of noir, it’s one of the best albums released this year in any style of music and should draw a wide listenership that transcends a jazz audience. These tracks unwind slowly, allowing for plenty of carefully considered improvisation: this album is all about building a mood and maintaining it. The complete ensemble are playing the album release show on Sept 23, with sets at 9 and 10:30 PM at at Cornelia St. Cafe; cover is $10 + a $10 mininum.

The album opens with a triptych of sorts, the interaction between Jewell and Belyamani gradually developing from a brooding coversation to more agitated and then back again as Naqvi’s toms prowl tensely, the piano adding a Rachmaninovian undercurrent. Jewell opens the third section, Kun Mun Kultani Tulisi with a plaintive, dusky, blues-drenched riff and variations as the dirge behind him rises to macabre proportions and then subsides. His rain-drenched, wee-hours black-and-white streetscape sax as the piano’s rivulets rise and fall, bass and drums adding rustling suspense, is vivid to the extreme.

The band picks up the pace with Give Us a Drink of Water, its frequent rhythmic shifts, funky syncopation and lively sax constrasting with murky piano riffage, Minae stepping out with a dancing solo mirrored uneasily and opaquely if energetically by Jewell. Likewise, they shift between dancefloor exuberance and a knifes-edge tension fueled by Belyamani and Miniae as it winds out.

Pass Fallow, Gallowglass reverts to moody, wounded piano-sax interplay, Naqvi’s elegant cymbals and toms again enhancing the sepulchral ambience. They continue the theme with Radegast, eventually rising to a briefly stomping interlude, flutters and squawks returning quickly to the shadows, driven by Belyamani’s sinister low lefthand. Guest guitarist Lionel Loueke’s tersely bending David Gilmourisms open The Master, a hypnotically bouncing mashup of North African proto-funk and bluesy minor-key rusticity. He also joins a similarly hypnotic if much more spikily energetic sonic web on Gnawa Blues.

While folk themes here are a frequent inspiration, they seldom rise to the surface to the extent they do on the take of Oh Shenandoa, a Matthew Brady early-morning post-battle Civil War tableau in sound.  The album ends appropriately with a wee-hours solo sax take of Black is the Colour (of My True Love’s Hair).

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September 21, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mitz’s New Work

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Sami Abu Shumays of seemingly forever shapeshifting but always captivating Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat for the heads-up about this one.]

The album title, Mitz’s New Work is a pun. This began as a collaboration, the New York project of Greek/American pianist Dimitri Mikelis and drummer Julien Augier. The cd cover’s a brown-tinted shot of the Ditmars Boulevard N/W platform, so: N,W. Get it? Mikelis is joined here by a first-rate cast of Alex Terrier on saxes and Alan Bjorklund on cornet along with Pascal Niggenkemper on upright bass. Additionally, Loinel Loueke lends his imaginative guitar touch to three tracks.

The cd kicks off with American Minare and its staggered beat – aside from the fluttering horn cresdendo at the head, it’s not the strongest cut on the album. But stick with it: you will be rewarded. Nine to Eleven Days a Week has a wash of eerie sax (run through a flange pedal) playing call-and-response with the cornet as the piano and rhythm section echo each other sparsely: it’s a strange and instantly gripping tune. Mikelis is also fluent on the oud, and his approach to an Arabic-influenced improvisation on Takasim (Arabic for jam) is as beautifully plaintive as it is true to form. His piano voicings and the way he builds the tune, adding sparse bass notes as the right hand cascades along, are wonderfully suspenseful, setting up the stark two-chord flooring for the next number, Fifteen Monkeys. Mikelis and then Niggenkemper keep it dark and simple with distant echoes of Monk while layers of sax, with and without effects, swoop and dive overhead, eventually climbing all over the place, Curious George style, looking for trouble.

With its bright yet wary and ominous melody, eventually bringing in the cornet to brighten things up a bit (and then darken them again), The First Man (Who Trusted Me) evokes the more pensive side of Peter Apfelbaum or maybe Pam Fleming. The beautifully melodic Katolisthisi builds from a fluttery intro to a catchy descending progression from the horn and reeds and then a brisk yet breezy solo from Terrier. By contrast, Lunar is an ensemble piece, sailing along on an exuberantly intricate, supremely melodic arrangement. Pendovola introduces a brief Greek dance theme, shifts to a happy fanfare, then Loueke and Augier bring it down with incisive accents while Mikelis works just behind the scenes, adding a playful hint of chaos as the melody rises and falls. The cd wraps up with a big show-stopper, Kabanario, an eerie piano piece punctuated by wild, effects-laden sax until Mikelis finally takes off with pointedly fiery insistence. Fans of melodic, purist jazz shouldn’t miss the chance to get to know this crew: watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment