Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Imaginative Postbop Tunesmithing from Nick Hempton

The shadowy red-and-black cd sleeve of Nick Hempton‘s new Posi-Tone album Odd Man Out implies noir but it’s mostly not. It’s a little less ambitious than Hempton’s 2011 album The Business but there’s a lot of tunefulness, clever composition and purist playing, a solid melodic postbop (and occasionally prebop) effort with Mike Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara on piano, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums.

They open with Nice Crackle, an altered dixieland bounce, Hempton’s expansive alto solo answered by a more rhythmic one from Dease. One of the album’s standout tracks, the ambitious narrative Five Ways Through Harsimus Cove tiptoes and then waltzes, takes the long way around through some sketchy territory and then suddenly they’re in the clear: the way they bring it back to the waltz theme midway through is great fun. By contrast, Winnie Blues is a straight-up, pretty predictably bluesy Hempton feature.

Their take of Billy Strayhorn’s Day Dream is languid and lyrical, Hempton’s gentle ornamentation slowly picking up steam. The album’s best track, The Set-Up, works a creepy Johnny Mandel-esque late 50s LA cool swing, Hempton choosing his spots, Dease taking a more gritty, squirrelly approach; they finally hit the noir head-on right before the end. The sense of suspense keeps going with Fifth Floor Run-Up, a latin vamp subtly cached under endless hints of a lickety-split swing that the band never hits head-on.

Nights and Mornings sounds like a rewrite of I Cover the Waterfront, morning slowly emerging out of night and then receding again. The suspense returns with The Slip and its droll nonchalance that the band absolutely refuses to give away: they keep walking and walking and walking and finally there’s a payoff when it’s clear that they made it out! The diptych A Bicycle Accident coalesces slowly into a funky shuffle and then morphs into a blithe mambo of sorts and has an ending that nobody sees coming. Streetlight Lament is less a lament than a fond, wee-hours reminiscence. The album winds up with an easygoing, bluesy take on Randy Newman’s Blue Shadows, more of a late afternoon than nocturnal theme. Hempton’s slightly smoky tone, purposeful playing and imaginative compositions make him someone to keep an eye on.

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September 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Sides of Brazil

Here’s an interesting case of how two groups can cover a lot of the same territory and come up with results that are equally compelling but completely different. Basically, Grupo Falso Baiano’s Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi’s is the party; Claudio Roditti’s Bons Amigos is the afterparty. They both play bossa nova jazz, for the most part anyway, and keep the rhythm simple and in the pocket – no hypnotic volleys of booming Bahian beats here. Both represent the classic Brazilian songbook, yet don’t neglect current-day composers. Otherwise, the albums are like two sides of the same coin.

Grupo Falso Baiano – that’s tongue-in-cheek Portuguese for “fake Bahian band” – have Jesse Appelman’s mandolin as a lead instrument, other than when guest Jovino Santos Neto isn’t playing electric piano or flute, which gives their sound a bright, rustic bite. Appelman gets a deliciously resonant, slightly watery tone out of it, much like a Portuguese guitar, alongside Brian Moran on 7-string acoustic guitar, Zack Pitt-Smith on reeds and Ami Molinelli on terse, purist percussion. Their opener here, Caminhando, is typical, a happy samba but with bite, Pitt-Smith’s balmy solo contrasting with Appelman’s spikily caffeinated lead lines. They do the same thing with Jacobo de Bandolim’s bossa nova title track, shifting methodically from pensive to triumphant, Appelman finally ringing out joyously over the final verse.

The thicket of textures from piano, guitar and mando get lush but aggressive on Pixinguinha’s Cheguei – they way they do it, it’s two steps from being a surf song. A trio of Santos Neto compositions follow: first, Feira Livre, scurrying warily with extra thump on the low end from guest percussionist Brian Rice, lit up by an animated Pitt-Smith alto sax solo. Kenne E Voce starts out as a jam with the two flutes floating overhead but then gets a welcome shot of adrenaline as Santos Neto switches back to keys. The third of his tracks is a beautifully expansive ballad, with affectingly starlit piano and pensive alto sax work.

Altamiro Carrilho’s Bem Brasil is done somewhat coyly, with constant rhythmic shifts and a surprisingly slamming outro; Sivuca’s Deixa O Breque amps up its balmy tropicalisms, while Bandolim’s Doce De Coco gets a cinematic, Henry Mancini-ish treatment, building from Santos Neto’s solo piano intro to Appelman’s ragtimish solo. They close with a joyously romping take on Sivuca’s Forro Na Penha.

Where Grupo Falso Baiano work a fast dance vibe elegantly, trumpeter Claudio Roditi reaches for a slightly slower, more cosmopolitan one alongside Donald Vega on piano, Marco Panascia on bass, Romero Lubambo on guitars and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums. Egberto Gismonti’s O Sonho – a prototype for many pop songs, most famously Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out – opens the album as a full-band study in dynamic shifts, rising and falling, Roditi taking it out on a surprisingly moody note with a characteristically crystalline solo. They raid a more recent era for Eliane Elias’ bittersweet Para Nade, followed by Roditi’s Bossa De Monk, done simple and proper with the trumpeter emulating a Charlie Rouse-style fluttery/calm diptpych. The title track, a Toninho Horta ballad, gets a warm, wee-hours treatment; after that, they swing Roditi’s own, clever composition Levitation – an artful arrangement of two shifting two-chord vamps – with a carefree, bluesy vibe.

Roditi’s most effortlessly stunning track here, Fantasia (Stella), has the trumpeter holding the center after Vega’s memorably murky solo intro, through wary banks of chromatics and a similarly apprehensive bass solo, Lubambo finally spiraling free of the tension. They end the album with another Elias tune, Amandamada, a playfully syncopated showcase for Lubambo, and then a high-spirited original, Roditi’s own piccolo samba, where he plays animated flutelike cadences on piccolo trumpet.

Both releases have been out since last year, Grupo Falso Baiano on Massaroca Records and Roditi on Resonance.

January 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Classic Tunefulness from Nick Hempton

File this one under melodic jazz composition – really, really good, interesting tunes and tasteful playing, classic late 50s/early 60s style. On saxophonist Nick Hempton’s new album The Business, the blues is always lurking somewhere, if not always centerstage, one reason why the hooks are so strong. Hempton goes for a clean, uncluttered tone and favors melody over ostentatious blowing. The first-class band on this session includes Art Hirahara on piano, Yotam Silberstein (who also appears on Jordan Young’s excellent new quartet album) on guitar, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Hempton has a thing for minor keys – his tunes often have a sardonic wit and a refreshing unpredictability, and the band rises to the occasion.

The first track is titled Flapjacks in Belo, samba-tinged with a long Hempton solo, Hirahara in late-night expansive mood, with a trick ending (something that will recur here, very enjoyably). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek Art Is in the Groove is a brisk retro swing tune seen through the prism of the early 70s, Hirahara delivering a period-perfect Joe Sample-ish solo on Rhodes, letting those reverb tones ring out for all they’re worth. One of only two covers here, Don Redman’s Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You gets going reaaaal slow, Hempton stays low and cool but then crescendos almost imperceptibly. The other, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s From Bechet, Byas and Fats is a real blast: it’s got a bass solo that’s almost a banjo tune, a lickety-split, sly Hirahara solo at doublespeed and a deliciously dark, bluesily climactic outro. It’s obviously a live showstopper for these guys.

Another real stunner here is the offhandedly moody Press One for Bupkis, Hirahara’s crescendo hitting the spot very satisfyingly, Hempton taking his time winding it out with suspenseful ambiguity. Likewise, the brooding jazz waltz The Wading Game has Panascia carrying its weight with an unexpected grace, Hirahara going out into the dark and coming back joyously, Hempton ratcheting up the intensity with a vividly bittersweet solo. The pensive ballad Encounter in E artfully works variations on a subtly modal bass theme up to a slinky bounce, Panascia’s matter-of-factly wary solo one of the album’s high points. With its casual sway, Cold Spring Fever is a showcase for both Silberstein’s rhythm playing (he goes into staggered ska for a bit underneath Hempton’s hazily acidic melody) as well as a nimble solo. The catchy, playful Not Here for a Haircut alternates between scurrying shuffle and straight-up swing – Hirahara once again can’t wait to get in on the fun and flip the script on the listener. The album ends on a jaunty note with the pretty self-explanatory Carry on up the Blues. Yet another winner from the Posi-Tone label, who are really on a roll this year.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Travis Sullivan’s New Directions Kicks off the Summer Properly

The trouble with a lot of jazz albums is that a lot of bands can’t translate their interplay from the stage or even the rehearsal room to the studio. As a result, they sound stiff – or as if everybody was just trying to lay down their parts and get the hell out. Alto saxophonist and Bjorkestra bandleader Travis Sullivan’s New Directions, on the other hand, sounds like a live show, except with studio-quality acoustics. It’s a great summertime album, brightly tuneful, full of good spirits and inspired playing from pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Brian Fishler (AKA Frank Feta of Richard Cheese’s band). Sullivan favors a clear, uncluttered tone and strongly melodic extrapolations rather than any crazed, heavy breathing. But as attractive as the melodies are, this isn’t lightweight by a long shot. Intense? Not particularly. Subtle and fun? You bet.

The opening track, Jamia’s Dance works vividly expansive Sullivan explorations of an absurdly catchy central hook. Autumn in NH is not a drinking song as you might expect (New Hampshire tops all states but Wyoming in per-capita alcohol consumption) but rather a morosely lyrical mood piece that stretches the band as far out into free territory as they go here. A hard-charging, samba-tinged number, Tuneology picks up the pace and sets the stage for Hidden Agenda, which begins as a funky mid 70s style crime movie tune with echoes of Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver theme – the hidden agenda here seems to be a big, long crescendo that involves everybody in turn, with a funny Coltrane quote, a bass solo that nimbly and energetically works a piano line and a spiraling Sullivan salvo out. They cover Rodgers and Hart’s Spring Is Here slowly and make it much more wintry that you would expect; the catchy, sprightly Georgie contrasts an understated dark soul piano pulse with Sullivan spinning around brightly overhead. Their cover of Tears for Fears’ odious 80s schlockfest Everybody Wants to Rule the World is a real shocker – it’s unrecognizable until they hit the hook, almost, Sullivan defiantly evading its cloying quality and then immediately messing up the tempo, taking it out on a limb and handing it over to Eckroth. Third time around, Panascia’s panacea is to make it funky.

A jazz waltz, Leap of Faith is another track with a pensive undercurrent beneath Sullivan’s stunningly effortless, good-natured glissandos, Eckroth adding a wee hours wink, Sullivan making an abrupt shift in a much more straight-ahead direction afterward, setting the stage for a deliciously swirling crescendo. It’s the kind of moment you see in concert a lot, which doesn’t make it onto studio albums as much as it should. An enigmatically bustling song without words, Magic Monday has Sullivan and Eckroth trading busily opaque solos over Panascia’s muscular pulse. The album winds up with the title track, an aggressive, terse, catchy straight-up strut that wouldn’t be out of place in the JD Allen catalog, Panascia leaping to a sprint and then back again, Fishler finally getting a chance to cut loose and hit hard and makes the absolute most of it. File this under melodic jazz, yet another triumph for the Posi-Tone label, who in this decade are making a mark much in the same way that Impulse did in the 60s. Sullivan’s next gig is with Bjorkestra on June 14 at 9 at Highline Ballroom.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tamir Hendelman’s New Album Packs a Punch

Tamir Hendelman is the pianist in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. His hard-hitting, intense new album Destinations firmly establishes him as a force to be reckoned with as one of this era’s cutting-edge jazz piano stars: Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, Dred Scott and Marc Cary. Like Clayton, he can go deep into the blues; like Scott, he sometimes exhibits a vivid late-Romantic streak, but his style is ultimately his own. Marco Panascia plays bass here, a terse and frequently incisive presence, with the reliably stellar Lewis Nash on drums.

The opening track, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams gets an inspired, no-nonsense, purist bluesy treatment. Passarim, by Antonio Carlos Jobim begins as a tight, spring-loaded ballad that picks up and takes on increasing shades of irony and grit, with some marvelous interplay between insistent bass and piano shadowing it about four minutes in. Fletcher Henderson’s Soft Winds has Hendelman scouting around aggressively for a comfort zone, eventually launching into a purposeful swing on the second verse, with an equally purposeful, to-the-point conversation between Panascia and Nash following. A radical reworking of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin takes on an insistent rippling intensity: the band grab it by its tail and swing it around a little – and then they take it to Brazil. Keith Jarrett’s My Song quickly shifts from its lullaby intro to the tightly wound precision of the second track, a vibe they maintain on their expansively Oscar Peterson-inflected cover of You Stepped Out of a Dream, Panascia getting to cut loose a little and bounce some horn voicings around.

Auspiciously, the two strongest performances here are both originals: the brooding, Brubeck-esque Israeli Waltz, and the haunting, elegaic Babushka, both of which pick up with a clenched-teeth resolve. There’s also a brisk and satisfying version of Bird’s Anthropology; On the Street Where You Live, which takes on not a wee hours vibe but a happy hour swing; Makoto Ozone’s BQE, a well-chosen springboard for both Hendelman’s blues and Romantic sensibilities; and a lyrical version of Fred Hersch’s Valentine, which begs the question of which came first, Paul McCartney’s Blackbird or this? It’s just out on Resonance Records.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Salvatore Bonafede Trio – Sicilian Opening

Italian jazz pianist Salvatore Bonafede blends diverse classic styles and pensive European melodies along with the occasional rustic Sicilian accent into a strikingly memorable, hummable mix on this new cd. In the style of another eminently catchy current composer, JD Allen, pretty much everything here clocks in at under five minutes, sometimes considerably less. Yet as indelible as the compositions are, the playing is impeccably tasteful and understated – if anything, these guys could cut loose a lot more if they felt like it.

The album opens with a jaunty New Orleans theme, quoting Brubeck liberally early on. According to the liner notes, the second cut is ostensibly Arab-influenced, but it’s basically a swaying, moody two-chord vamp into a catchy, bluesy chorus. Track three, Ideal Standard memorably addresses issues of communication or lack thereof via Bonafede’s tensely judicious minor-key phrasing. Bassist Marco Panascia maintains the vibe, voicing a solo that builds intensity as it follows Bonafede’s lines even as it brings the volume down to the lower registers. The trio follow that with a slow, expressive quasi blues, drummer Marcello Pellitteri deftly bouncing accents off the piano’s bass notes.

The warmly cinematic seventh track paints an Americana-inflected tableau evocative of the late Danny Federici’s solo work. Of the two covers here, Blackbird is a song that should be retired – no matter what Bonafede does with it, which isn’t straying particularly far from the original, you are only waiting for the moment to arrive when it’s over. But with his version of She’s Leaving Home, Bonafede really captures the understated exasperation and unspoken rage in the McCartney original. The other tracks include a tribute to Palermo that builds to the closest approximation of a scream that there is here; a hypnotic Dr. John homage, and a casually swaying number that blends gospel with an updated, martial WC Handy vibe. The album creeps up on you if you’re not paying attention – that’s how strong the melodies are.  The liner notes have an earnestness that’s often hilarious, like they’ve been babelfished backwards and forwards. Somebody get these guys a translator that speaks…that is to say, one with a voice that isn’t computer-generated.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments