Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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?

Advertisements

August 14, 2012 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

DVD Review: The Mark Sherman Quintet Live at Sweet Rhythm

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was stoner jazz. The one before that was free jazz. This is straight-up party jazz, as you would imagine you’d get at a live gig by vibraphonist Mark Sherman. He picked a good date to record, in fact at one of the last shows at venerable New York jazz club Sweet Rhythm (formerly Sweet Basil). Sherman is joined here by Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass and Tim Horner on drums. It’s an interesting configuration, the choice of piano and vibraphone joining to create some especially incisive, percussive textures, especially since Farnham is not limited to simply comping chords while Sherman carries a tune. It’s something akin to having both an acoustic piano and a Rhodes in the band, except that neither ever gets in the other’s way.The crew here typically follow the time-honored formula of stating the melody followed by various solo spotlights; all compositions are originals by Sherman other than the gently soulful ballad Hope, by Farnham, and Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle, where the band look under the hood and discover its inner imp. Sherman is a purist: he goes for melody, doesn’t overreach or overembellish and the band follows suit, delivering smart and inspired improvisations on a lot of memorable hooks. These are expansive performance, most of them clocking in at ten minutes at a clip. And Sherman really loves his triplets – this show has more than any in recent memory.

The strongest track here is the aptly titled The Winning Life, a swinging triplet shuffle where after almost a whole set of terse, thoughtful playing, Sherman finally cuts loose with some lightning-fast runs and Farnham does the same. Piano and drums then have a lot of fun straightening out the rhythm and then letting it go again. The Great Trip is a terrific ensemble showcase, Magnarelli eventually getting to choose his spots judiciously against the sway and crash of the swinging rhythm section. Farnham gets restless; Magnarelli brings the central hook back with majesty and soul. There’s also the slightly Brazilian-tinged Hardship (meaning complexity, it would seem, because it’s absolutely exuberant); the warmly lyrical, briskly shuffling Little Lullaby, with its jauntily bluesy tinges; the catchy, bouncy Ella Bella, another swing shuffle and a couple of ballads. Like the performance, the videography is no-nonsense. Shots of the band pan in during solos: the musicians go about their work in businesslike fashion without any mugging. Happily, the recording is cd quality: if you have your machine hooked up to a good system, you’ll get a clear picture of how good the concert sounded in the club that night.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment