Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

State-of-the-Art Big Band Jazz and a Shapeshifter Show by John Yao’s 17-Piece Instrument

John Yao is one of New York’s elite trombonists, and a frequent performer with both Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.Yao is also a first-class, ambitious and witty composer and leader of his own all-star large ensemble, John Yao’s 17-Piece Instrument. They have a new album, Flip-Flop, and a release show at 7 PM on June 17 at Brooklyn’s home for big band jazz, Shapeshifter Lab, with sets at 7 and 8:15 PM and an enticingly low $10 cover.

As you might imagine from a trombonist, the album is a big, bright, brassy extravaganza. But it’s also full of unexpected dynamics, dips and rises, imaginative voicings and occasional sardonic humor. The title track bookends punchy brass exchanges around a couple of long sax-and-rhythm-section vectors upward, John O’Gallagher on alto and Rich Perry on tenor, the two engaging in a genial conversation midway through. New Guy is Yao at his sardonic best: a moody, syncopated vamp with fluttery brass gives way to punchy swing with cleverly echoing voices, Andy Gravish’s stairstepping trumpet leading into to more serioso trombone from Yao and then a pugilistic exchange that builds to a hopeful crescendo and then a memorable punchline.

Slow Children at Play follows a bright, balmy clave stroll, echoing Yao’s work with the O’Farrill band, with a warmly considered Rich Perry tenor sax solo that builds to a lively exchange with the brass, followed by a summery trombone-and-rhythm-section interlude. It’s very New York. For that matter, the same could be said for the two “soundscapes” here, group improvisation in a Butch Morris vein, the first a luminously suspenseful intro of sorts with shivery violin at its center, the second with a similarly apprehensive, cinematic sweep.

With a blazing brass kickoff, impressively terse yet punchy David Smith trumpet solo and bustling Jon Irabagon tenor sax solo, the gritty swing tune Hellgate is the most trad and also the catchiest number here. Opening with Yao’s own moody trombone, Reflection shifts toward noir, its resonant, shifting sheets building a tensely expectant ambience with a lull for pianist Jesse Stacken’s brooding excursion and then a rewardingly brass-fueled crescendo. Yao’s sense of humor and aptitude for relating a good yarn take centerstage on Ode to the Last Twinkie, its playful echo effects and Jon Irabagon’s droll, eye-rolling tenor sax offering a nod to Arnold Schoenberg.

Illumination also features those echoes that Yao likes so much, a much more serious piece with Alejandro Aviles’ spiraling flute and Frank Basile’s energetic baritone sax over a tensely hypnotic piano riff, the brass falling into place with a mighty domino effect, Stacken adding a cascading, neoromantically-tinged break. The album winds up with the hard-swinging Out of Socket. Taken as a whole, it’s a tight, adrenalizing performance by a collection of first-call NYC jazz talent that also includes trumpeters John Walsh and Jason Wiseman; Luis Bonilla, Matt McDonald, Kajiwara Tokunori and Jennifer Wharton; Tim Armacost on tenor sax;  Robert Sabin on bass and Vince Cherico on drums. As the album’s just out, it hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but Yao has lots of good stuff on his music page including several of these tracks.

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June 15, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roger Davidson Claims Rio As His Own

Friday night at Zinc Bar, pianist/composer Roger Davidson led a first-class New York-based Brazilian jazz band in a romp through tunes from his lavish new double cd, Jounrey to Rio, just out from Soundbrush. Davidson has had a lifelong affair with Brazilian music, culminating with a two-week jaunt there where this album was recorded with an all-star cast including saxophonist Marcelo Martins, trombonist Gilmar Ferreira, guitarist Leonardo Amuedo and a multitude of percussion. Davidson alluded that the cast onstage – including David Finck on bass, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Paul Meyers on guitar, plus Ivan Renta on tenor and soprano saxophones, Adriano Santos on drums and Marivaldo doe Santos on percussion.n – would be equally at home playing the compositions, and they were.

At the keys, Davidson favors big block chords, stairstepping chromatics and insistent octaves to anchor the sound, filling a role much like a rhythm guitarist in a rock band. He plays that role strongly and nonchalantly and is generous with solos, allowing plenty of space for contributions from individual members. Bonilla’s rippling, minutely glistening, jeweled attack, rapidfire glissandos and ever-present good humor kept the crowd on the edge of their seats. Renta alternated between balmy tenor lines and jauntily spiraling soprano work over the hypnotic, clave-powered river from the corner with the percussion. Meyers’ nimble, spikily crescendoing solos were as sympatico as his strong, resonant chordal propulsion: he made a smooth but powerful engine to the percussion’s unstoppable wheels.

The funniest moment of the night was Davidson’s one-note samba, where the horns played that note in perfect almost-deadpan unison while Davidson worked equally tongue-in-cheek permutations on a single chord before introducing variations on the theme, such that it was. A couple of duets by Meyers and Davidson provided a summery, sometimes wistful contrast. Bonilla fired off a long shower of sparks that elevated a showy cha-cha above the level of parade-ground theme, while Davidson’s own gleaming, noctnnal work lit up an unexpectedly saturnine, anthemic bossa number, soprano sax trading off with Bonilla’s plaintive resonance. Much as most of the song titles were love songs, an upbeat pulse and warm sixth chords dominated the show, Davidson switched up the moods, somsetimes almost imperceptibly, from song to song. And there was delicious, celebratory cake at the end of the concert, baked for the occasion by Finck’s daughter Olivia. She may have music in her bloodlines but she has a bright future as a pastry chef if she feels like it.

Davidson has also enjoyed great success with klezmer and Balkan music, notably on his previous album On the Road of Life, a collection of originals in those styles. Ultimately, considering how effortlessly he moves between seemingly dissimilar styles, his future may be in writing for film. Somewhere there’s a mystern/adventure narrative set somewhere in the tropics that would benefit magnificently from what Davidson’s been up to lately.

June 16, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s Legacy Does Justice to the Windy City

It’s been a great year for big band jazz releases and this is a particularly enjoyable one. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s new one, Legacy jazzes up the classics and celebrates nonagenarian composer/conductor Wilson’s Chicago home turf with dynamic charts that range from stark and suspenseful to lush and majestic. As you would expect from this guy, the band is monstrous, with up to 20 players, building from the A-list rhythm section of Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. A lot of the ideas here are very ambitious, but Wilson always cuts to the chase, with a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that logic and directness. Case in point: the opening Variations on a Theme by Stravinsky, which is less gritty eeriness than blazing intensity followed by a long swing passage with bright sax and trumpet solos. It’s a three-and-a-half minute hit. Who would have thought?

A mysterious bass pulse underpins the lushly melodic, warmly crescendoing Virgo, which they take up and back down methodically, swing it with a blithely spiraling Anthony Wilson guitar solo and later on intersperse some big swells with bright alto sax. They go out the way they came in. Variations on Claire de Lune starts as a slowly swinging piano blues, acknowledges the otherworldly theme and then goes doublespeed with jovial alto sax and gritty trumpet, and eventually a memorably slow fade. Likewise, Variations on a Theme by Puccini kicks off bluesily – it’s hard to find the classical tune here until it rears its wiggy head coming out of a deliciously tuneful baritone sax solo. September Sky, a warmly reflective, Hubert Laws-inflected indian summer flute tune gets an equally startling and effective doublespeed breakdown with the whole orchestra roaring, Rosnes bringing it back down in a heartbeat as the brass rises majestically in the distance against her wee-hours flourishes.

The rest of the album is a suite titled Yes Chicago Is… Referencing numerous famous Chicago venues and a well-known Dylan tune as well as the local sports franchises, it’s a very smartly crafted theme and variations, beginning with a pensive, nocturnal third-stream piano/bass motif. What comes after? Some striking chromatics; shapeshifting, melodic swing; a slyly insistent ballpark theme capped off by playful baritone sax; some nifty tradeoffs between swirling atmospherics and joyous trumpet; and a surprisingly serioso outro. Clearly, Wilson’s relationship to his hometown is a complex one – it beats the hell out of Sweet Home Chicago. There isn’t a single miss on this album, a real treat, which has been out since the end of last month on Mack Avenue.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment