Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Slinky, Sophisticated Organ Jazz That Might Have Slipped Under the Radar

Dr. Pam Popper, who has emerged as one of the brightest lights  since the 2020 lockdown, has made a big deal of the fact that no matter how disturbing the current situation becomes, we can’t afford to let our joie de vivre be stolen from us. And what’s better to lift our spirits than funky organ jazz? Jared Gold, one of the most sophisticated organists in that demimonde, is leading a trio tomorrow night, June 22 at Smalls, with sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Gold has put out plenty of good albums of his own: his 2012 release Golden Child is the most distinctive and in its own defiantly thorny way, maybe the best of the bunch. A record that’s probably closer to what he’s likely to deliver in a venue like Smalls is guitarist Dave Stryker‘s slinky but urbane Baker’s Circle, streaming at Bandcamp (Gold has been Stryker’s main man on organ for quite awhile). Like a lot of albums that came out during the dead zone of the winter of 2021, it’s flown under the radar, which is too bad because it’s a great party record.

The first of Stryker’s originals here is the opening track, Tough – a briskly shuffling, catchy, soul-infused Styker original full of precise, warmly bending guitar lines, bright tenor sax from Walter Smith III and subtle flashes from across drummer McClenty Hunter’s kit. Gold stays on track with the band in his solo, with his steady blues riffage.

There’s lithely tumbling latin flair in the second track, El Camino, matched by Smith’s precise, chromatic downward cascades, Stryker’s drive toward a spiraling attack and a tantalizingly brief Gold solo.

Smith and Gold harmonize tersely over the tricky syncopation of Dreamsong, the bandleader channeling a late 50s soul-jazz vibe over lurking, resonant organ. They make tightly strutting swing out of Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, with carefree yet judicious lines from both the bandleader and then Gold. The lone Gold tune here is the aptly titled, scampering Rush Hour, with rambunctious solos from Smith and then Stryker.

The quartet rescue Leon Russell’s early 70s tune Superstar from the circle of hell occupied by groups like the Carpenters, then launch into the title track, the last of the Stryker originals. No spoilers about what jazz classic that one nicks: percussionist Mayra Casales adds subtle boom to the low end.

Likewise, they play Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues as a tightly straight-up clave tune with Stryker’s spikiest work here, Gold’s edge in contrast with Smith’s balmy approach. Stryker finally goes for Wes Montgomery homage in Love Dance, by Ivan Lins. They close the record with Trouble (No. 2), a reworking of the old Lloyd Price hit that while short of feverish, owes a lot to Peggy Lee.

If you’re wondering what the album title refers to, it’s a shout-out to Stryker’s mentor and guitar teacher David Baker.

June 21, 2022 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Javon Jackson Reinvents Rare Spirituals with Nikki Giovanni’s Help

For his latest album, which hasn’t hit the web yet, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson asked poet Nikki Giovanni if she could suggest ten spirituals that he ought to record. She gave him a list with only a small handful of standards: otherwise, the tracks on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni are on the rare side. What’s more, the album marks possibly the first time this century that Giovanni has been featured on record as a lead singer.

She picked the ballad Night Song as a salute to her old friend Nina Simone. Since Jackson’s current home state, Connecticut, was locked down, he had to fly to Giovanni’s home in Virginia to cut the vocals. Pianist Jeremy Manasia plays spare, resonant chords beneath Jackson’s balmy lines as bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter provide whispery rhythm; Giovanni’s weathered evocation of being alone in a bustling crowd packs a wallop.

The first of the spirituals is a straightforwardly swinging take of Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, a beautiful, stern minor-key tune, Jackson’s cantabile lead giving way to Manasia’s biting chords and elegant rudiments from Hunter.

Of the well-known numbers here, Wade in the Water makes a good segue, Jackson adding some spicy flourishes to his sailing lines, Manasia rising and falling before Christina Greer joins in to speak Giovanni’s scarily prescient words on how it’s up the outcasts and nonconformists among us to keep an otherwise soulless world alive.

The quartet reinvent Swing Low Sweet Chariot as a sly, slinky calypso jazz tune. yeah mon! By contrast, another familiar favorite, Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord draws a straight line back to somber Birmingham-era Coltrane as well as Miles Davis. The group’s take of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is much the same, with a regal, glittering, Mulgrew Miller-esque solo from Manasia.

But it’s the obscurities that everyone is going to want to hear. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is an aptly warm lullaby of a melody, Jackson giving it a calm midtempo swing and a misty-toned solo.

I’ve Been Buked (as in “rebuked”) has special historical resonance since Mahalia Jackson sang it at the Lincoln Memorial on the day of Martin Luther King’s famous March on Washington speech there. Williams bookends it with stark bowing, Jackson letting the clouds drift away before Manasia’s glittering solo

Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, a duo arrangement for piano and sax, has an aptly reverent ambience. The group cut loose with a carefree swing in the closing number, I Opened My Mouth to the Lord, only to wind it out with a wary intensity. Gravitas and unselfconscious depth galore on an album which will no doubt be sought out by jazz and gospel fans alike.

February 24, 2022 Posted by | gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pianist Noah Haidu Gains Momentum

Pianist Noah Haidu‘s latest Posi-Tone release, Momentum, a trio set with Ariel de la Portilla on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums, is a solid, purist effort. Haidu draws on a deep bag of licks and an immersion in the tradition for a tuneful, steady, swinging performance. Haidu isn’t without a sense of humor, and he and the band vary the moods through a mix of dynamically-charged originals as well as some diverse covers.

The opening track, I Thought About You moves upward into careful, rippling swing with a bluesy ebulience reminiscent of what Christian Sands does on the most recent Christian McBride trio album. The title cut works a dancing, funky series of hard-hitting clusters, Hunter having a field day with them, brief lingering passages punctuating the chase. Rainbow, the Keith Jarrett classic, gets a purposeful but bittersweetly lingering interpretation, Haidu again working methodically from judicious precision through some metric manipulation up to a steady 6/8 swing.

Likewise, the trio takes Haidu’s Juicy from a 7/8 intro to murky chordal clusters, back and forth with an unresolved tension over an altered clave groove. Thad Jones’ A Child Is Born keeps the cached clave going, a swaying, spacious, rather majestic take that pulses along with a wee-hours familiarity. A Donald Fagen-ish vamp kicks off the moody intro to The End of a Love Affair, and its dynamic and tempo shifts. Joe Henderson’s Serenity turns out to be anything but serene, with romping drums and biting modal hooks. They end with a Haidu composition, Cookie Jar, which pretty much sums up the album: a darkly catchy, resolving central riff, animated Hunter coloristics and a coyly out-of-focus solo from de la Portilla to a rather ambiguous outro.

August 25, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tuneful Modes and Masterful Attack from Saxophonist Stan Killian

Texas-bred, New York-based tenor saxophonist Stan Killian has a gift for melodic transparency that makes a solid springboard for soloing and individual contributions. Yet while the group and solo performances on Killian’s new album Evoke are terse and direct, the compositions are what really jump out at you – that and Killian’s playing.  He has a clear, uncluttered tone and a refreshingly direct melodic sensibility, with a passion for modal vamps and keen ear for microtones that he blends seamlessly into the songs’ fabric. And what he’s doing isn’t simply bending blue notes – his attack has more in common with Joe Maneri than, say, Sonny Stitt. The band –Benito Gonzalez on piano, Mike Moreno on guitar,  Corcoran Holt on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums – stays on track with a purposefulness that’s remarkable even by the standards of the New Melodic Jazz. This is an especially tuneful album, all the more considering that many of the songs were inspired by the mechanical sounds of daily urban life, from construction equipment to the thump and clatter of the N and Q trains making their way into the Union Square subway station.

The opening tarck, Subterranean Melody begins as an attractively modal jazz waltz, then goes dancing in 7/4 with Moreno mirroring Killian over Hunter’s carefully crescendoing pulse. A slow ballad,  Evoke juxtaposes Killian’s allusively dark, restrained, lyrical excursions against a moody modal backdrop. Echolalia, another uneasily modal number, makes a good segue with its a brief triplet interlude and hints of a latin groove spiced with Moreno’s judiciously placed clusters.

Kirby works off a a weird cyclical swing, bass and drums hitting on the final downbeat, up to a scurrying, nonchalant sax solo, Moreno again choosing his spots to break up the rhythm, Gonzalez hitting it hard as he takes the song upward. The pensively swaying Beekman33, inspired by a late-night jaunt through Bryant Park, builds from an uneasy stroll to muddled and rhythmic – clearly, what Killian thougth would be a walk in the park turned out to be something else.

Observation is a tribute of sorts to the diversity of New York personalities – if the song’s trickly rhythmic, almost peevish circularity is to be taken at face value, we are obstinate, persistent and leave an impression. The closing track, Hindu is not an exploration of Indian melody but a casually modal platform for Killian to reference some favorite influences from Joe Henderson, to Larry Young, to Woody Shaw, lit up by an incisive Gonzalez solo. Killian is currently on Asian tour and returns to New York for an early-evening, 6 PM album release show on 4/21 at his usual haunt, 55 Bar.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment