Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Project Them: No Van Morrison in This Band

Vibraphonist Mark Sherman and tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini are old friends from the NYC scene since their days as classmates at the High School of Music and Art, dreaming of having a band together and doing whatever other things up-and-coming jazz guys did back in the 70s. At last, now they have that band, wryly calling themselves Project Them, and an interesting and rewardingly tuneful album out from Miles High that follows what was by all accounts an energetic and well-received European tour. The crew here also includes Mitchel Forman on piano and organ, Martin Djakonovski on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, You might not expect such lyricism as there is here from a bunch of guys with reps as hardbop heavy-hitters with virtuoso chops and intellectual rigor to match.

But there is. Sherman’s Submissive Dominants kicks off the album with a hard-hitting, cinematic latin-tinged theme, which they take swinging with an expansive sax solo that goes from scanning the horizon to skimming over it, Sherman echoing that approach over a lightly galloping pulse. Franceschini’s Sleight of Hand is next, adding a wickedly catchy hint of funk in the same vein as Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece’s recent jukebox jazz work,

Nussbaum’s We 3 begins as a balmy ballad and picks up with sunny sax over lingering vibes and a slowly dancing rhythm. Solitude, by Sherman, considers the upside to being alone, calm and catchy with hints of Steely Dan and Pat Metheny.The South Song, by Djakonovski, works understated, tersely modal territory, Froman’s spacious guitarlike piano chords handing off to Sherman’s meticulously expansive solo and then a similarly considered, upper midrange, woodtoned one from the composer. Franceschini’s Minor Turns brings back the jaunty syncopation of the second track, Froman switching to organ behind the sax’s lively clusters.

They do Johnny Mandel’s Close Enough for Love with almost a reggae pulse, and then a couple of numbers with Italian pianist Paolo di Sabatino, who contributes Short Swing – a funky minor blues in disguise – and Ma Bo’s Waltz, which nicks a very, very familiar theme immortalized by Coltrane. The album ends up with Sherman’s Angular Blues, an organ tune that raises the ante with the album’s most vigorous departure into the bop that these guys have in their fingers.

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January 13, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deliciously Cool Reinterpretations from Mark Sherman

Vibraphonist Mark Sherman’s latest album The LA Sessions – out now on the Miles High label -has a visceral West Coast cool to it, occasionally to the point of being Twin Peaks music. Which is especially interesting considering that Sherman is a real powerhouse: his 2010 DVD recorded at the old Sweet Rhythm in Manhattan presents him in showstopper hard-bop mode. Tempos here are upbeat for the most part, but with playing that’s restrained and tightly focused, Sherman blending timbres with Bill Cunliffe’s B3 organ for a lusciously chilly sound and a seamless chemistry with veteran guitarist John Chiodini and drummer Charles Ruggiero. Sherman’s style here has a rippling, straightforward insistence, Cunliffe alternating between sostenuto scamper, lush washes of chords and frequent hard-bop runs over tirelessly swinging pedal lines. As is usually the case on a session like this, Ruggiero doesn’t get many opportunities to be ostentatious, but makes the most of them, whether signaling an unexpected shift or, in the case of the slinky opening track – an icily intriguing take of Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n You – trading artful and counterintuitive bars with each of his bandmates in turn.

Other than Sherman’s Far Away, an unexpectedly dreamy lullaby, the album puts an original spin on a collection of standards. Counting the bonus tracks, there are actually a couple of takes of Woody ‘n You, along with Bud Powell’s Celia – each of those done with a remarkably terse bounce, muting the creepy edges of the original – and Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo, in both instances swinging with a coy suspense. Even when Cunliffe cuts loose with a lickety-split, spiraling attack, there’s no crescendo per se other than the sheer velocity of the notes.

It Could Happen to You works its way out of a maze of syncopation to a brisk swing and a tersely memorable series of handoffs from guitar, to organ, to vibes. The version of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not ventures into noir territory, Chiodini’s casually bluesy solo providing contrasting brightness. From there they transform Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice into chicken shack bop. The longest cut here, Milt Jackson’s Bag’s Groove morphs matter-of-factly from pensive soul to a swinging, gospel-tinged blues before going back to its shadowy beginnings: in its own air-conditioned way, it more than does justice to the more raw but equally brooding original. And Miles Davis’ Serpent’s Tooth has Chiodini’s biting chordal attack setting up yet another direct yet expansive Sherman solo. All this sets a mood and pretty much doesn’t waver. Can we get another couple martinis over here? It’s still happy hour, isn’t it?

August 14, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eddie Mendenhall’s New One: Bad Title, Excellent Album

Don’t let the title fool you: jazz pianist Eddie Mendenhall’s new album Cosine Meets Tangent isn’t exactly cold and mathematical. Even on the slow numbers, this is a hot session, ablaze with energy and good vibes (pun intended). Mendenhall leads a quartet with the reliably intense, aggressive Mark Sherman on vibes, Akira Tana on drums, and John Schifflett on bass. Ironically, the most potent number here is also the slowest one. The stately, pensive Lament for the Ocean is basically a seven-minute Mendenhall solo that builds to the point where it swerves away and looks like it’s going to miss its mark…but then Mendenhall ups the intensity with some chromatically-fueled menace. It’s one of the best songs to come over the transom this year.

The rest of the album blazes with inspired playing and vividly melodic compositions. Sherman wastes no time in pouncing on the opening cut, Protocol, with its marvelously intricate piano/vibraphone chart, scurrying and scampering with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek loungey vibe. Mendenhall enters almost imperceptibly on the heels of this excursion and then matter-of-factly picks up the pace to where Sherman can race away with it again. Spring Waltz begins counterintuitively with a judicious bass solo and expands to where it looks like everything’s in bud. The bossa-flavored Rain Hike has Sherman riding the groove with clenched-teeth intensity, alternating inspired segments with the piano, Mendenhall coming out of the last Sherman volley with similar fire but bringing it down gracefully in seconds flat.

They do the Rodgers/Hart ballad So Easy to Remember as tense, suspenseful swing – it’s a clinic in restraint, especially seeing as the band seems to want to jump out of their shoes but holds back. Sherman’s catchy, somewhat wry The Great Triplet is yet another showcase for more sizzle across the keys of the vibes; it contrasts vividly with the brief, astringent, unselfconsciously gripping Morning Stretch. There’s also the brisk, distantly Asian-tinged swing number Rin Ki On Hen; Blues for Yokohama, another upbeat tune with hints of ragtime piano and a sly, scampering drum solo; and the cleverly syncopated, unpredictable title track. File this under party jazz: put this on and the cognoscenti will want to know who this is.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something Old, Something New, a Lot That’s Borrowed and Plenty of Blues

A couple of noteworthy recent releases under the big broad banner of Ellingtonia: a welcome digital reissue of the 1963 Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins album (distributed by Harmonia Mundi) as well as Dan Block’s new From His World to Mine: Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington. The first isn’t the summit meeting between legends that the title implies. A more apt description would be Hawk Plays Ellington: the Duke is strictly a member of the supporting cast here, generously giving the tenor player – whose style he clearly dug – a lot of space, and Hawkins seizes the moment. 47 years later, the album retains the wee-hours vibe of the original because that’s what it was, a couple of busy guys squeezing in a one-off session which ultimately would be the only one they would do together. Although by this point Ellington had become a bluesy classical composer and Hawkins still had bop tendencies, they found common ground with a bunch of jump blues tunes, many of them in the Black and Tan Fantasy mold: eerie minor themes that eventually smooth out into genial swing. It’s nicely remastered – drummer Sam Woodyard’s deft rimshots and cymbal hits enjoy improved clarity compared to the original, as does Aaron Bell’s bass. The most offhanded moments here are the best. Limbo Jazz, clearly not meant as a take, has Woodyard audibly singing along, but Hawk’s casual tradeoffs with baritone man Harry Carney perfectly complete the picture. Likewise, Mood Indigo makes a long launching pad for a single Hawkins solo that just keeps going, and going, and going, Ellington waving him to take another verse, and then a chorus, knowing that the guy was on his game. And Ellington’s song specifically for Hawkins, Self-Portrait of Bean, leans in stately and serious, verging on noir. What’s stunning after all these years is that everything here is basically a pop song, albeit a very sophisticated, often dark-tinged one.

Reedman Dan Block realizes that covering the classics requires some reinvention: otherwise, why bother? With painstaking purism but also considerable joy, he alternates between radical reinterpretation and a bluesy geniality very similar to the Hawkins album, in a set of mostly brilliant obscurities. It’s just as much a triumph of smart archivism as it is of inventive playing and arranging. The late 30s showstopper Are You Stickin’? becomes a latin number, Block’s sailing clarinet interspersed with Mark Sherman’s marvelously terse vibraphone lines, while a late 40s vocal tune, The Beautiful Indians grows from atmospherics to a pulsing tango. Playing tenor sax, Block brings out every bit of subtle, wide-eyed satire in Suburbanites, a 1947 Al Sears showcase, then switches to bass clarinet for a gypsy-tinged, bluesy take of an early one of Ellington’s “portraits,” Portrait of Bert Williams (a popular black vaudevillian of the era). Mt. Harrissa, which is the slightly altered version of Take the A Train from the vastly underrated Far East Suite, is done as a noir bossa with vibes – harrissa may be the hot sauce of choice at falafel stands around the world, but this one’s minty, with balmy Block tenor and guitar from James Chirillo. Block’s love for all things Ellingtonian is contagious, bringing out an inspired performance from the entire cast, the rest of whom include Catherine Russell’s rhythm section of Lee Hudson on bass and Brian Grice on drums plus Mike Kanan on piano and Pat O’Leary on cello. It’s out now on Miles High Records.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments