Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

The Jamie Begian Big Band Grins and Pushes the Envelope

Big Fat Grin, the new album by the Jamie Begian Big Band delivers everything a modern big band jazz outfit ought to: it’s a treat for anyone who goes for an intricate mesh of textures and a BIG, boisterous, ecstatic yet cerebral sound. Begian, a guitarist, takes a backseat here to the charts (there are cuts on which he doesn’t play at all). His game plan – to have fun, in a smart way – is a rousing success in every sense of the word. Fans of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, the Alan Ferber Nonet and similar cutting-edge largescale ensembles have a lot to sink their ears into here. A sense of the unexpected pervades everything. Begian gets maximum impact out of the powerhouse sonics because of the dynamism of the arrangements, often pared down for just a couple of voices, or even a single instrument, so when the band takes it up all the way, the effect can be breathtaking. Another neat thing about this band is that it’s not all about the blare, either – the low end doesn’t get neglected, especially when Max Seigel is anchoring it with his bass trombone alongside Dave Ambrosio’s prominent bass. A handful of tracks here work permutations on a repetitive, circular theme, often moving the voicings around in an unpredictable rondo. Begian also frequently employs collage-style charts, intricate overlays of individual instruments that fan out kaleidoscopically, a device that’s as fascinating to follow as it is original and innovative.

The centerpiece here is a four part suite titled Tayloration, the most retro of the compositions. Tracking a persistent, three-note pulse through several permutations – murky low-register explorations lit up by a gruff Jeff Bush trombone solo, an altered bossa segment, a slow, sly boogie and swing passages that contrast vividly with the underlying simplicity. The album’s opening track, Funky Coffee is basically an orchestrated funk groove. The entire crew’s in on it, making it contagious to the extreme, with a characteristically terse, bluesy Marc McDonald alto solo. The following cut, Halay is essentially a one-chord jam, variations on a fanfare over a swaying bass pulse, with a brightly lyrical, klezmer-tinged Dimitri Moderbacher clarinet solo. The most counterintuitive track here is Patience, which begins by cycling an eerie chromatic theme, individual voices pairing off against the bass, and ends up matching an insistently serious horn chart against the woozy grin of Begian’s slide guitar. A gentle, bucolic number, Suddenly, Summer Falls features balmy flute from Moderbacher and solo flugelhorn from Jason Colby, followed by some surprising but perfectly devised Memphis-style soul guitar. The album ends with the title track, a blast of surprises including a truly hilarious false ending. The Jamie Begian Big Band play the Bahai Center, 53 E 11th St between University Place & Broadway on Tuesday, July 20 at 8 PM.

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