Lucid Culture


An Artful, Ambitious, Optimistic Album From Bassist Adi Meyerson

One of the most ambitious jazz releases of the past several months is bassist Adi Meyerson‘s album I Want to Sing My Heart Out in Praise of Life, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a six-part suite based on the colorful, molecularly inspired art of Yayoi Kusama. Meyerson, who has synesthesia, experienced a burst of inspiration when she first discovered Kusama’s work, not only in terms of melodic ideas, but from the artist’s concept of creating a utopian space where everyone is welcome.

The opening prelude sets the stage, with Meyerson’s stark bowing, flickering, circling harmonics and the mystical vocals of Sabeth Perez and Camille Thurman building an Indian-inspired sonic womb behind spoken word artist Eden Girma’s benediction. She speaks of dark moments, wreckage and sacrificial lambs, but also finding peace and redemption. That we all may be so lucky.

A spare, lithe bass groove alternates with airy lushness in Kabocha – Japanese for “pumpkin” -whose raw materials are based on a sample of Kusama reading her poem On Pumpkins. Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet, Marquis Hill’s trumpet, Anne Drummond’s flute and Sam Towse’s spare electronic keys float in en masse, then diverge animatedly, drummer Kush Abadey subtly building percolating funk under Drummond’s triumphant solo.

Follow the Red Dot has a lickety-split, vaudevillian swing drive emerging from a brief conversation between Hill and Pino, hints of New Orleans, a febrile but spacious trumpet solo and a spare, fragmentary piano solo. Meyerson draws on a wry, controversial 1965 Kusama installation which is essentially a gently cartoonish precursor to an infamous H.R. Giger work. DKs fans, you know it!

Thurman moves to the mic for Caged Bird, quoting from both Maya Angelou and Angela Davis before launching into Meyerson’s playful, optimistic, metaphorically loaded lyric, the band pulsing and bouncing behind her. With lively solos from Drummond and Pino’s clarinet, it could be an Alice Lee tune with a beefier backdrop and more syncopation.

Infinity, the album’s big epic, draws on Kusama’s dizzying Infinity Mirror Rooms. The theme is self-examination, Meyerson taking her time launching into a cheery solo dance to introduce Perez’s lustrously atmospheric vocalese, giving way to a sparkling piano solo as Abadey inserts deft polyrhythms. Hill’s victoriously flaring solo and Towse’s incisive chords wind it down elegantly.

The album’s final cut is the title track, a reverent, spacious piano ballad with Thurman on vocals, “For those who seek a better place.” Meyerson definitely feels our pain! Her next free-state gig is on April 1 at half past noon at the Gene Harris Jazz Festival in Boise, Idaho. And Pino has an upcoming gig at Smalls – where there are no restrictions – on March 23, with sets by his eclectic, dynamic No No Nonet at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.


March 19, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Ambitiously Translucent Debut Album by Flutist and Singer Alex Hamburger

Alex Hamburger is a graceful singer and a thoughtful, lyrical flutist. Her sonic home seems to be the instrument’s midrange: shrieking extended technique is not her thing. And she has a fearless political sensibility. Her debut album And She Spoke – streaming at Bandcamp – celebrates womens’ strength and resilience. Her songcraft is vivid and she doesn’t waste notes throughout this 2019 recording..

The opening number, Waking in the City is built around lyrics by Maya Angelou. Hamburger sings with a crystalline focus over a bass drone: “And I, an alarm. awake as a rumor of war, lie stretching into dawn, unmasked, unheeded.” Pianist José Luiz Martins and bassist Doug Weiss stretch themselves in tandem with a lithe hook, drummer Chase Kuesel building suspense on his cymbal bells and hi-hat, the bandleader’s lines dancing as the morning tableau unfolds. Martins spirals and ripples before Hamburger brings everything in for a soft landing.

The piano runs a brooding riff as she sings the opening verse of La Desesperación Es la Pasión Verdaderamente Humana – a setting of an eloquent and pretty inarguable text by Ana Maria R. Codas. Hamburger’s flute provides reedy hints of Colombian music before it’s suddenly over: the group keep you wanting more.

Martins shifts between piano and starry Rhodes in a balmy take of Geri Allen’s Unconditional Love, offering a fond but kinetic solo before Hamburger takes a purposefully strolling one of her own. It Comes Unadorned is a setting of lyrics by Toni Morrison – is the tune “strong enough to cast a spell?” This one is gentle but resolute, Martins looping a wary modal hook, Hamburger rising from disquiet in an account of casual serendipity.

She does Mary Lou Williams’ What’s Your Story Morning Glory as a steadily syncopated blues, Weiss taking a balletesque verse to set up Hamburger’s low-key, imaginatively ornamented solo, Last Chance Lost, a Joni Mitchell tune, gets a sober, stoic, brief interpretation over low lights, then the band segue into a plainspoken, earthbound jazz version of the Beatles’ Across the Universe.

The album’s final and strongest cut is Burning the Letters, a simmering, flamenco-tinged jazz waltz. It’s reason to look forward to whatever else this eclectic artist has cooking.

February 27, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Gregg August Large Ensemble at the Jazz Gallery, NYC 4/10/09

This year the Jazz Gallery has been commissioning big band projects. More musicians should do what bassist/composer Gregg August (whose powerfully melodic contributions appear on the latest JD Allen Trio cd, reviewed here recently) did with his. Leading a ten-piece all-star ensemble on Friday night, August proved every bit as potent a composer as an instrumentalist, playing a thematic series of pieces inspired by and frequently including poems that explore race relations. Interpreting the texts both literally and thematically, August’s richly melodic, aptly relevant compositions created a program that screams out to be recorded.


August’s arrangements maximized the ensemble’s diverse talents: Jaleel Shaw’s ecstatically fiery alto sax flights, Sam Newsome’s rapidfire fluidity on soprano, JD Allen’s darkly direct terseness on tenor and pianist Luis Perdomo’s vividly bittersweet, concise chordal work along with his own straightforwardly melodic, sometimes latin-inflected lines, many of them echoing horn voicings. Drummer Donald Edwards’ strategy shaded toward darkness with innumerable well-placed cymbal accents and flourishes. The night opened on an auspicious note with an interpretation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shaw building his final solo to screaming, gritty overtones illustrating the exasperation of confinement over the rhythm section’s staggered beat. Sweet Words, based on a sacastic Langston Hughes poem about (what else) bigotry proved to be a pretty straightforward, tuneful ensemble piece highlighted by a relentlessly intense, expansive Perdomo solo.


A New Orleans tableau, Sky, based on poet Richard Katrovas’s encounter with a possibly homeless young black man painted a stark picture of a balmy morning tinged with misunderstanding and regret, Allen’s lyrical tenor opening against pensively crescendoing piano and bowed bass, the group pulsing through a funereal arrangement colored by rubato drums. Perhaps the high point of the night was Your Only Child, a literal illustration of Marilyn Nelson’s poem A Wreath for Emmett Till, a recording of Till’s mother describing her murdered son’s mutilated body playing over the ominous atmosphere of the intro, singer Miles Griffith echoing the song’s theme and ending with a fervent evocation of sobbing agony.


The second set maintained the captivating intensity of the first, opening with the slinky, insistent I Rise (a musical translation of the famous Maya Angelou poem) highlighted by a joyous solo from Shaw followed by a characteristically thoughtful, matter-of-fact one from Allen. The lushly orchestrated, Mingus-inflected I Sang in the Sun (from the Carolyn Kizer poem) brought back the vocals, lowlit by some marvelously succinct shading by Thomas. A Cornelius Eady poem about an encounter with a racist in an ice cream parlor provided a solid platform for a slyly bluesy trombone solo and some funky work by August. The night wound up with Letter to America (on a Francisco Alarcon poem), impassioned vocals echoed by John Bailey’s blazing, bluesy trumpet and yet another uncompromisingly confrontational solo by Allen building to a casually intense coda. In a year of some extraordinary live jazz, a packed house got to witness what has to be one of the highlights of the year so far.


April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment