Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Future of Jazz Is Female Too

Saxophonist Roxy Coss’ latest album The Future Is Female is a catchy, hard-swinging mix of postbop jazz tunes. It’s also a fierce political statement, an important part of a protest jaza tradition of protest jazz that goes back to icons like Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln. Besides her own career as a bandleader, Coss is part of a postbop supergroup of sorts, the New Faces, assembled by her label Posi-Tone Records with with  trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. They’re playing the album release for their new one on July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard. Cover is $25.

The song titles on Coss’ new album – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – speak to both female empowerment and universal struggle, from a millennial point of view. The concept for the album coalesced in the wake of her participation in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The opening track, Nevertheless, She Persisted is a biting illustration of women artists’ struggles to be recognized, a moody latin-tinged groove with spare harmonies between Coss’ tenor, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Miki Yamanaka’s piano. Much as the music wants to swing, hard, Coss always pulls it back toward the shadows.

Little Did She Know, an early tune from Coss’ college days, reflects on breaking free from the conformity imposed on women, alternating between a scamper and a bit of a waltz driven by Rick Rosato’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The towering ballad She Needed A Hero, So That’s What She Became is a return to brooding ambience, a launching pad for solos. Yamanaka glitters magnificently through Macbride’s silvery cymbal mist; Coss wafts uneasily on soprano and Wintz takes a turn toward Memphis,

Females Are Strong As Hell has hard-charging, bluesy grit fueled by Yamanaka’s mighty lefthand, Wintz’s incisive attack and the bandleader’s terse hooks over Macbride’s rumble

Like so much of the rest of the world, Coss was in mourning in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. “What do we do when we realize what has been there all along: a society built on misogyny, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, hate, greed, and lies? If we elected this person to be our leader, what does that say about us? This tune reveals my vision of the presidency: an over-the-top facade of happiness and progress, vacillating between despair and hilarity, ultimately giving way to destruction and collapse,” Coss explains in the album liner notes for Mr. President. The band bookend sotto-voce, sarcastic swing with a macabre march: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly compelling track.

#MeToo illustrates womens’ long journey through cruelty and repression toward triumph, Coss offering hope on bass clarinet over a muted, syncopated pulse, pushed along by Yamanaka’s insistence, setting the stage for Wintz’s screaming crescendo

In Choices, Coss underscores that a woman’s right to choose extends across all boundaries, beyond simple reproductive freedom: for her, it’s a matter of choosing music over more traditional, conformist expectations. As the mutedly wounded song makes clear, it can be a tortuous path.

With its withering, winking sarcasm and bluesy flair, the album’s funniest track is Feminist AF, weighing the absurdity of feminism and equal rights being considered controversial in a so-called democracy. Nasty Women Grab Back  comes across as a sardonic rewrite of a latin-infused jazz classic, Coss wailing on soprano and echoed by Wintz’s spirals and bounds. The album’s final cut is Ode to a Generation, Coss’ tenor trading tersely with guest Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet. Clearly, the darkly soul-inspired anthem’s clenched-teeth modalities are as much indictment as guarded triumph: we still have a whole lot of work ahead of us.

In a year that’s seen an explosion of relevant, politically-inspired jazz, this dark broadside might just be the best jazz album of 2018.

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July 21, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eclectic, Purposeful Trombonist Plays a Subterranean Album Release Show this Wednesday

You want instant cred? Get recruited by Anat Cohen to play in her Tentet. That’s the deal with trombonist Nick Finzer, who’s playing the album release for his new one, No Arrival this Wednesday, May 23 at 8 PM at Subculture, 45 Bleecker just east of Lafayette, downstairs from the Culture Project Theatre. Advance tix, available at the box office, are $20.

Most of the new record – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is originals. To Finzer’s credit, this isn’t a full-throttle situation: he mixes up tempos and styles, and for a guy with his vaunted technique (check his youtube masterclass channel), he doesn’t waste notes. On the opening number, Rinse And Repeat, Finzer’s sextet work an insistent, understated cha-cha groove, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Victor Gould’s piano throwing answers to the bandleader’s ongoing quest of a solo, saxophonist Lucas Pino following, completely tongue-in-cheek, Jon Irabagon style.

The blithe New Orleans stroll that introduces Never Enough offers no hint of the welcome haphazard direction it’s going to go in…or Pino’s nifty bass clarinet solo. Always fun to take chances, right?

Likewise, the first of the covers, Leonard Bernstein’s Maria theme from West Side Story, understates the latin flavor, dancing along on the pulse of Dave Baron’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums, the bandleader’s balmy solo front and center. They revert to similarly subtle latin syncopations a little later with George Gershwin’s Soon.

Tomorrow Next Year – Finzer’s “we’re gonna get through this somehow” response to the fateful 2016 Presidential election – is a bustling, vampy urban tableau, Finzer and Pino having fun with a famous Albert King riff. The band build momentum out of a pensive, searching tone poem of sorts in the album’s title track – the momentary pairing of Macbride’s cymbal bells and Wintz’s belltone chords is a cool touch.

Chugging sixteenth-note volleys from Finzer and Pino, and a tightly clustering Gould solo propel Pyramid, from Duke Ellington’s Ellington Far East Suite, while expansive solos from Finzer and Wintz elevate Only This, Only Now from existential gloom. The album closes with two covers: a mighty, churning reinvention of Prince’s The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, and Strayhorn’s A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, a showcase for Finzer’s wry, Wycliffe-esque finesse with a mute. It’s an impressive effort from a highly sought-after player whose best days are probably still ahead of him.

May 19, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Mighty, Majestic Big Band Debut from Christopher Zuar

Let’s say you want to start your career with a real bang. You don’t just want to slip in via the back door – you want to smash a grand slam on the first pitch you see in the majors. That’s pretty much what Christopher Zuar did with his debut recording, Musings, which hasn’t hit Spotify yet although there are a few tracks up at Sunnyside Records’ page. With the aid of producer Mike Holober, the young-ish (20s) composer assembled a titanic nineteen-piece crew of some of this era’s most distinguished names in big band jazz to play his lavish, lyrical charts. The result is the year’s best jazz debut – nothing else comes close. They’re playing Symphony Space on Dec 15 at 7:30 PM; cover is $22. If large ensemble jazz is your thing, you’d be crazy to miss this.

Zuar comes out of the Jim McNeely school of lush jazz orchestration, and there are echoes of the serpentine sweep of Maria Schneider as well here. But ultimately, this a toweringly individualistic statement. For all the epic gramdeur, there’s purpose, and drive, and eclectic influences as diverse as latin, Brazilian and baroque music.The opening track, Remembrance, springboards off a very simple octave riff and builds tension around a root note, in a Marc Ribot vein. At the center is a long, expressively nuanced Dave Pietro alto sax solo.

Frank Carlberg’s austere piano opens the steady, Bach-inspired Chaconne with a sly allusion to an infamous Led Zep riff, drummer Mark Ferber’s misterioso brushwork and bassist John Hebert’s minimalistic punches grounding the bright, brassy swells overhead as Zuar works another famous tune into the equation. Disquieting echo phrases mingle and flutter as Vulnerable States opens, Jo Lawry’s crystalline vocalese sailing over an uneasy, latin-tinged bustle: Zuar employs that superb voice as impactfully as Asuka Kakitani did with Sara Serpa on her similar blockbuster of a debut a couple of years ago.

Ha! (The Joke’s On You) – a shout-out to Zuar’s bubbe – references the baroque with its call-and-response along with a fiery, horn-driven vaudevillian funk surrealism driven by Pete McCann’s frenetically crescendoing wah guitar. Artfully fragmented voices intersperse, converge and then join forces as the ballad So Close Yet So Far Away coalesces, tenor player Jason Rigby’s turn from wistful to gritty triumph taking centerstage, down to a long, suspenseful outro.

Anthem has chattering Brazilian tinges, a dancing bass solo and a big vocal hook from Lawry,. Lonely Road, a reflection on the systematic destruction of Zuar’s beloved West Village in the ongoing blitzkrieg of gentrification, is a gem of a miniature rich with elegaic counterpoint: it quietly screams out for the composer to make a big wrecking ball out of it like the other numbers here.

The album winds up with its lone cover, a lithely bittersweet take of Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis,  a striking, nebulously furtive interlude punctuated by swirly soprano sax at its center. This album is genuinely spectacular effort that also comprises the inspired, energetic work of woodwind players Ben Kono, Lucas Pino and Brian Landrus, trumpeters Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell and Matt Holman, trombonists Tim Albright, Matt McDonald, Alan Ferber and Max Seigel. You’ll see this as this blog’s pick for best jazz debut of 2016 when the full list is published at NPR next week.

December 10, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counterintuitive B3 Jazz Tunefulness from Kerong Chok

While jazz is a worldwide phenomenon, artists from outside the United States so often bring unexpectedly welcome ideas with them. Maybe it’s that organist Kerong Chok is from Singapore, maybe not, but his new album Good Company isn’t your typical B3 groove record. There are a couple of pretty standard, brisk 8th-note shuffles here, but the rest of this collection of original compositions reveals a distinctive voice, a strong sense of melody and inspired playing from a first-rate band: Lucas Pino on tenor and soprano sax, and flute; Michael Valeanu on guitar; Jake Goldbas on drums and Matt Holman supplying trumpet on a couple of cuts. Goldbas is one of the principal reasons why this is such an enjoyable album, constantly on the prowl, swiping and scrambling for offbeats: he’s an extrovert and a hard hitter, which keeps the energy level consistently high.

The best composition here is the title track, taking what’s essentially a nocturnal soul ballad and making a jazz waltz out of it, much in the same vein as up-and-coming trombonist David Gibson’s best work. With rich harmonies between Chok and Pino, lushly atmospheric, crescendoing drums and a remarkably direct guitar solo that goes straight to the essence of the song, it packs a punch. Likewise, the cut which follows it, Incessant, which makes a deliciously radical shift from straight-up, catchy funk to some rivetingly moody modal interplay between Pino and Holman over Valeanu’s casually ominous chordal work. The way Chok goes spiraling beneath the hook as another brightly funky track, Free and Easy, winds out, is also a characteristically unpredictable, powerful moment.

Rather than being a dirge, The First Day of School is rhythmically tricky and allusively bluesy. Samba Number 1 follows a richly counterintuitive light-to-dark trajectory, on the wings of Chok’s rippling, bittersweet solo, while the languid, this-close-to-morose For Kenny gives Pino a long launching pad for a memorable, expansively pensive excursion on tenor. There’s also a slinky latin groove that has Goldbas hinting at reggae, and the wickedly catchy opening track, Black Ice, a swinging B3 take on Miles Davis-style modalities that gives Valeanu a platform for giving it depth and gravitas, eventually echoed by the whole band. This is something that ought to appeal not only to fans of jazz organ but to anyone looking for a solid and consistently interesting album of jazz songs – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wild Celebration of 25 Years of Jazz at the New School

The New School’s jazz program turned 25 this year: to celebrate, they threw an eclectic, often transcendent bash last night featuring a mix of jazz legends, alumni, faculty and students, a younger generation practically jumping out of their socks to be playing with icons, the veterans just as psyched to be up there with what could be the next generation of jazz greats. The premise of the night – other than to get more than three hours’ worth of enticing video for students who might be vaccillating between jazz programs – was a tribute to former faculty members Frank Foster and Benny Powell. For whatever reason, the program ended up having more to do with Dizzy Gillespie than the Basie connection those two shared for decades. But what’s unplanned is almost always why jazz is so much fun.

The Foster/Powell tribute kicked off with a blistering version of Foster’s Manhattan Madness. Reggie Workman, as shrewd an observer of talent as there is, introduced the band and told everyone to keep an eye out for pianist Martha Kato, a student. He was right on the money about her: fearless when it came to mining the lowest registers for magisterial power, she showed off a crystalline, bluesy purism that made a perfect match alongside a mix of alums and faculty: Kenyatta Beasley (who conducted the ensemble) ; Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet; Arun Luthra,  Keith Loftis and the Cookers’ Billy Harper on saxes; Christopher Stover on trombone; Rory Stuart and Mike Moreno on guitars; Josh Ginsburg on bass; and the Yellowjackets’ Marcus Baylor clattering up a storm on drums. Their take on a series of swing, Afro-Cuban and bossa nova themes reveled in the tunefulness that defined Foster’s repertoire.

The night’s single most transcendent moment was a rich, gospel-infused blues duet between pianist Junior Mance and violinist Michi Fuji. The two play together in Mance’s trio and share a finely attuned chemistry, Fuji adding an element of mystery with judiciously placed glissandos, Mance mimicking Fuji’s attack with some unexpected flutters of his own before returning to an otherworldly glimmer. The two were done all too soon. Mance plays with his trio most Sundays at Cafe Loup on 13th just west of 6th Ave. in case you might need more of him.

Close behind was an expansive, high-energy yet richly dynamic “trumpet battle” led by the great Jimmy Owens in tandem with Bridgewater, a tribute to Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Gillespie, Thad Jones and also Thelonious Monk. Owens’ straight-ahead, often slyly witty style paired off with Bridgewater’s artfully ornamented attack; Bridgewater’s decision to do Clifford Brown’s Dahoud as a subdued, plaintive ballad was shatteringly successful. Again, it was a student, bassist Tony Lannen, who held the crowd rapt with both his wit – it takes nerve to punctuate your first solo of the night with a joke and make it resound like he did – and then a bristlingly precise, rapidfire spot later on which he played entirely with his bow. Meanwhile, Winard Harper put on a clinic in joyous, counterintuitive, latin-tinged beats: when he finally got a solo, it was all avant garde sticks and hardware and rims, and yet purist in a way that drew a straight line back to Elvin Jones. At one point, Owens wanted to take it all the way down to just his horn, but pianist JoAnne Brackeen wasn’t looking up: she’d become one with the resonant sheets of Monk she was playing at that point. Another up-and-coming talent, Alejandro Berti, joined in a genially crescendoing round-robin of trumpets to wind up the set on a literally high note.

For the night’s second duet, faculty pianist Andy Milne joined forces with Swiss harmonicist Gregoire Maret for a radical, slowly unwinding, atonalist reinterpretation of Body and Soul. The night ended on with the more traditionally ecstatic sounds of the Eyal Vilner Big Band, first backing nonagenarian tenor player Frank Wess and then fellow tenor legend Jimmy Heath, who’s five years his junior. Wess embodied pure soul, matched nuance to energy and got two standing ovations out of it; Heath, eternally youthful, refused to take a seat, cheered on his new bandmates – Mike McGarill, Tom Abbott, Lucas Pino, Asaf Yuria and big baritone guy Jason Marshall on saxes; the explosive Cameron Johnson and Takuya Kuroda on trumpet; Ivan Malespin and John Mosca on trombones; Yonatan Riklis on piano and Mike Karn on bass, with drummer Joe Strasser showing off a nimble originality matched to a power that never quite exploded – clearly, he was feeling the room and played to it perfectly. Chanteuse Brianna Thomas – whom none other than Will Friedwald has anointed as arguably the new generation’s finest straight-ahead jazz singer – joined them and battled a nonresponsive PA to put her message of sass and style across vividly in a rousing take of Lover, Come Back to Me. Otherwise, Vilner’s arrangements of Bud Powell (a potently percussive Un Poco Loco) and Diz nimbly articulated voices throughout the ensemble, Vilner himself taking the occasionally understated bluesy solo spots on alto sax. When they closed with what sounded like a Gillespie reworking of a Louis Jordan jump blues, Heath grinned and looked on deviously before choosing his spot to join in the raucous riffage as it wound out. It was something of a shock to see a handful of empty seats: concerts with the sheer magnitude of this one don’t come along every day.

The New School may not have weekly concerts like they had back in the early days, but those they do have tend to be extraordinary: both Marc Ribot (with his noir soundtrack project) and Ethiopian jazz masters Either/Orchestra have delivered equally sensational concerts here in recent months, something to keep in mind if you’re looking for major live jazz events percolating just under the radar.

April 26, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment