Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Gorgeously Haunting New Album and a Queens Residency from Lyrical Trombonist John Yao

Trombonist John Yao thinks big. His music is incredibly catchy, often cinematic, with epic sweep and abundant humor, whether he’s leading his 17-Piece Instrument big band or his quintet. But his latest quintet album, Presence – streaming at Bandcamp – is a radical departure. A distantly haunting, persistent sense of loss pervades the compositions. The central theme seems to be how to maintain a sense of continuity when everything goes horribly awry, in the wake of losing a good friend. It’s one of the half-dozen best jazz releases of 2018 so far.

On one hand, this is a new direction for the typically extroverted Yao. On the other, the frequent latin grooves here are familiar territory, considering his longtime association with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Yao has a monthly residency at Terraza 7 in Queens, where he’s playing tonight, May 16 at 9 PM with a slightly different lineup than usual: Billy Drewes on saxes, Jon Irabagon on tenor, Peter Brendler on bass and Jeremy Noller on drums. Cover is $10.

The album opens with Tight Rope, an uneasy psychedelic latin funk number, Randy Ingram’s lingering Rhodes holding the center as Iragabon’s soprano sax methodically and enigmatically leaps around, the bandleader introducing an unexpected calm. It wouldn’t be out of place in the early 70s Eddie Palmieri songbook.

The title track is more contemplative, drummer Shawn Baltazor working subtle permutations on a simple clave, around the kit, Ingram and Yao finding closure with concise solos. Baltazor ushers in the third number, the broodingly starry ballad M. Howard with muted polyrhythms beneath Yao’s sober foghorn riffs and Ingram’s moody piano, Brendler holding close to the center, up to a pensively spacious solo. The horn harmonies rising behind Ingram’s angst-fueled modal piano solo are a high point out of many on this album.

Over the Line has a funky sway and more of the gorgeously muted melodicism that pervades the record, Yao making his way through the album’s most enigmatic yet haunting solo, then hands off to Irabagon’s flickering ghost of a sopranino sax solo as Ingram glimmers eerily in the upper registers. Baltazor’s rise from sepulchral to resigned and energetic caps off one of Yao’s best compositions. 

The tumbling, altered New Orleans-isms and chattering individual voices of the free interlude Fuzzy Logic are suspiciously joyous. The shadowy, blues-tinged modalities of Nightfall make a stark contrast, Yao reaching down into the well to pull up some sustenance over a nimble, crescendoing, syncopated drive.

He opens 1247 Chestnut, a tone poem of sorts, with a goodnaturedly terse theme over muted, rubato tom-toms, Irabagon’s soprano further lightening the mood, Ingram branching outward with rustling neoromanticisms. The album’s final number is the aptly titled Bouncy’s Bounce, which has a triumphant Louis Armstrong-ish swing, a celebration of getting back in the groove to stay.

Advertisements

May 16, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

40Twenty Explore Moody Depths and Raucously Funny Postbop Jazz at Seeds in Brooklyn

It was about midway through jazz quartet 40Twenty’s performance last night at Seeds that bassist Dave Ambrosio took a purposeful, moodily strolling solo. As pianist Jacob Sacks played judiciously plaintive chords and the occasional flyswatter accent, drummer Vinnie Sperrazza got his floor tom crackling almost like a bass cab with a loose cone. Building a series of surrealistically altered press rolls, he was damned if he wasn’t going to max out the mystery, the perfect level of rattle and hum. You, too, would have been transfixed if you’d been there. Moments like that make it all worthwhile, justifying the shlep all the way out to what’s essentially an unairconditioned brownstone building foyer in what used to be deep Brooklyn and has become more and more Notbrooklyn.

40Twenty take their name from the golden-age jazz club tradition of playing a (frequently exhausting) series of sets, forty minutes onstage, twenty minutes off and so forth. But that’s as retro as the quartet gets. All the band members write, including trombonist Jacob Garchik, whose job in this crew is low-key, lyrical frontman. True to their name, their two sets, timed almost down to the second, explored the band’s two contrasting sides. The first was hauntingly resonant, neoromantically-colored themes. The night’s best number was one of those, a wounded, modal, slowly anthemic piece that built to a flurry of a false ending…and then the band took it doublespeed, swung the hell out of it and basically turned it inside out when Garchik and then Ambrosio aired out their variations on it. The other was another slow one, less overtly wounded but just as purposeful, where Garchik took charge of maintaining the overcast mood.

Much as this group looks back to Mad Men-era postbop, they don’t imitate it: the blues for them are more an allusion than any kind of statement one way or the other. The other side of their music involves deconstructing swing, especially in terms of metrics, and it’s here where they can be devastatingly funny. In fact, their jokes are too good to give away. One frequent jape involves beats that seem random but probably aren’t. Another is good old-fashioned jousting. There was one point where one band member (to tell you who it was would be a spoiler: you really should go and see for yourself) egged his bandmate on, the defensive player took his eye off the ball and the aggressor then went in for a slam-dunk that got everybody in the band laughing: especially the guy who’d allowed it. Maybe the funniest moment of all of them involved repetition and how much a band – or an audience – can stand.

This is an overgeneralization, but the upper-register side of the band – Sacks and Sperrazza – tend to be the cutups, and the guys on the low end – Garchik and Ambrosio – the serious ones. Although they all varied their roles, Garchik lightening up at the very end in a blithe swing romp as Sacks showed off some wicked chops with a breathtaking, lickety-split, precise series of cascades. He could play Liszt well, if he wanted to. But he probably finds this kind of music more interesting. And the cameraderie between the guys is familiar, and insightful: even during a more-or-less free interlude during the first number, everybody was listening, and waiting til there was a clear path to the basket to lay their shots in. 40Twenty are two nights into their five-night stand at Seeds, 617 Vanderbilt Ave. between Bergen and St. Mark’s; take the 2 or 3 to Bergen or the B/Q to Seventh Ave. Their shows tonight, July 24 and the next two nights start around 8:30; cover is just ten bucks.

July 24, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JD Allen Releases a Characteristically Majestic, Intense New Album Uptown at Minton’s

Having followed JD Allen‘s career over the years, it’s validaing to see how much recognition the tersely stormy tenor saxophonist/composer has received lately. On the other hand, where the hell was the jazz media ten years ago? At that point, he had already concretized his signature style of “jukebox jazz” – concise, machete-sharp statements that for all their brevity packed a wallop as mighty as any other composer these days can deliver in any other style of music. What Darcy James Argue or Maria Schneider can say with eighteen musicians, JD Allen can say with three. He’s in the midst of a weekend stand at Minton’s for the release of his latest album, Graffiti, with his long-running trio, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. It’s a group that like the Brubeck Quartet, or Coltrane’s early 60s bands, may someday be considered iconic. Sets tonight are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; your best and most economical bet is the $25 bar seats, since the sound travels well in the club’s historic space.

The new album both continues and refines the vision Allen began with on I AM I AM, the slashing 2006 variations-on-a-theme, a device he’s worked with each of his successive trio albums. You could call them jazz sonatas, spiced with ominous modalities, majestically savage, wickedly cutting minor-key riffage and key input from the rhythm section. One reason why Allen’s trio is so strong is that they’ve been together so long, a rarity in jazz these days. The other is that Allen’s compositions put the bass and drums as front and center as his magisterial, hard-hitting sax. While he’s capable of blustery volleys of hardbop, he rarely does that, eschewing gratuitous displays of fearsome technique for judiciously placed melody and embellishments, and both August and Royston maintain that dynamic. The former is as likely to add color and cumulo-nimbus ambience with his bow, while the latter – arguably this era’s most mutably colorful jazz drummer – gets to cut loose, completely off his leash, with explosive results.

At the closing night of this year’s Winter Jazzfest, Allen and his trio justified a headline status of sorts with a riveting hourlong midnight set at Subculture. Across town at the Minetta Lane Theatre, Rudresh Mahanthappa had just delivered a spine-tingling set of meticulously reinvented, Indian-tinged Charlie Parker themes, a spectacular display of wind-tunnel control, subtle dynamic shifts and commandingly turbocharged power. But Allen was the highlight of the evening and the festival. Much as the group kept a laser focus on the compositions, each number – drawing on a mix of material from the I AM I AM, Shine! and Grace albums – got an expansive yet purposeful workout, like a hitter methodically adjusting to a series of completely different pitchers and then hitting the ball out of the park. Royston volleyed and pummeled and shuffled, August supplied stygian gravitas, negotiating the pitchblende terrain with the night vision of a panther, Allen stunning the crowd with both purpose and technique, and a long series of duotone hooks to open the set. After an uneasy charge through a series of overcast, sometimes somber themes, Allen completely flipped the script with a couple of standards, as if to say, you think you knew me? But it was the originals that everybody in the room had come out for, and it wasn’t long before the band went back to them, shadowboxing with the weight of history and a relentless drive to bring some victory to the task.

June 13, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jasmine Lovell-Smith Brings Her Bright, Vivid Songs Without Words to Gowanus Tonight

Dubious segues aside, there’s an intriguing jazz twinbill at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus tonight starting at 7 with some no doubt vigorous improvisation, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Matt Bauder ripping it up with drummer Tomas Fujiwara. They’re followed at around 8 by New Zealand-based soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith and her vividly tuneful, cinematic jazz project, Towering Poppies. The lineup for this show includes Cat Toren on piano, Adam Hopkins on bass and Kate Gentile on drums; cover is $10.

Lovell-Smith’s debut album, Fortune Songs, with a different cast – Toren on piano, Russell Moore on trumpet, Patrick Reid on bass and Kate Pittman on drums – is streaming at Bandcamp. Lovell-Smith likes anthemic hooks, resonant long-tone harmonies and glistening, neoromantically-tinged piano. Tempos are on the slow side; the group maintains a close focus on interplay and emotional content, eschewing any kind of ostentatious soloing. A gentle, springlike atmosphere pervades this warmly thematic collection.

The opening track, Confidence (One) sets the tone with its low-key twin-horn theme over a muted, syncopated pulse – Pittman’s misterioso cymbal and snare work is just plain fantastic. A lively dancing theme eventually moves to the bass; sax and trumpet intertwine deftly as it winds out. The group follows that with a glimmering tone poem of sorts, Darkling I Listen, then Let Go Be Free, which develops the theme with a lingering Miles Davis gravitas over a carefully strolling, cleverly mutating pulse, Pittman again in the foreground with some neat brushwork.

Confidence (Two) refracts the album’s opening melody through shifting rhythms and a spare, somewhat disassembled arrangement, Lovell-Smith’s crystalline solo juxtaposed against a constantly mutating backdrop. After that, there’s a free interlude where individual instrumental voices prowl around while Lovell-Smith holds the center, edging toward an anthemic crescendo. Moore’s carefree but purposeful trumpet and then Lovell-Smith’s tenderly lyrical sax take centerstage in A Nest to Fly, anchored by Toren’s lowlit, sustained piano and Pittman’s increasingly triumphant drum flourishes.

Lover’s Knot takes its time rising from an uptight circular piano theme, Lovell-Smith finally introducing a welcome, gentle respite. The album’s last number, When the Tide is Right bounces along with yet more artful cymbal-and-snare work from Pittman, dancing steps from Toren and shiny terseness from the horns. This is an auspicious opportunity to get acquainted with a distinctive new voice in jazz composition and her simpatico cast.

April 7, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Tallitsch Brings His Signature Edgy, Catchy Postbop Tunes to the West Village

Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch has been on a roll lately. He’s been writing some of the most memorable tunes in jazz over the last couple of years. His latest Posi-Tone album, Ride, is streaming at Spotify; tomorrow night, Feb 20 he’s at the Garage (99 7th Ave. South, 1 to Christopher St/Sheridan Square). for happy hour starting at 6 PM, leading a quartet with Jordan Piper on piano, Ariel De La Portilla on bass and Paul Wells on drums. Then next month, on March 27 at 8 PM Tallitsch leads a monstrously good sextet including Mike DiRubbo, David Gibson, Brian Charette, Peter Brendler and Mark Ferber at Victor Baker Guitars, 38-01 23rd Ave, Astoria (N/Q to Ditmars) for a live youtube broadcast.

The band on the album is just as good. Art Hirahara is one of the most instantly recognizable pianists in jazz right now, drawing on styles as diverse as the neoromantics, Asian folk and funk. Bassist Peter Brendler continues to build a resume of some of the best recording dates and groups in New York in recent years. Trombonist Michael Dease is another in-demand guy, with nuance to match raw power; drummer Rudy Royston has finally been getting long-deserved critical props, and pushes this date along with characteristic wit and thrill-ride intensity.

The album’s title track kicks it off, a brisk, edgy Frank Foster-esque shuffle with some tumbling around from the rhythm section, an expansively uneasy Tallitsch solo echoed by Hirahara followed by a machinegunning Royston Rumble. Rubbernecker, a caffeinated highway theme with subtle tempo shifts, moves up to a spiral staircase sprint from Hirahara. Rain, a plaintive pastoral jazz waltz, is anchored by Hirahara’s sober gospel chords and Royston’s stern cymbals. The Giving Tree, another brisk shuffle, works a vampy, nebulously funk-influenced tune – a lot of 70s and 80s fusion bands were shooting for something like this but couldn’t stay within themselves enough to pull it off. The Myth, a rippling, lickety-split piano-fueled shuffle, is sort of a more uneasy, modal take on a similar theme.

El Luchador, a wry, tongue-in-cheek Mexican cha-cha, gets some surprisingly pensive rapidfiring sax that Dease follows with a hair-trigger response once he’s finally given the chance.  Dease fuels the droll Knuckle Dragger with an infusion of wide-eyed cat-ate-the-canary blues. The somewhat ironically titled The Path is the album’s most challenging, labyrinthine track, but Royston keeps it on the rails. The album winds up with Turtle and its kinetically romping mashup of latin-inflected drive and moody modalities.

There are also two stunningly successful rock instrumentals here. The band does Life On Mars as straight-up, no-BS art-rock anthem – Tallitsch’s wistful timbre nails the bittersweetness of the Bowie original. Led Zep’s Ten Years Gone rises with majestic twin horn harmonies from Tallitsch and Dease – while the rhythm is totally straight-up, it’s closer to jazz than the Bowie cover.

Tallitsch is also a radio host. His WWFM show spotlights lots of under-the-radar NYC talent.

February 19, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saxophonist Kenny Shanker Nails an Edgy NYC Vibe, With an October 29 Hell’s Kitchen Show

Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify – with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.

Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.

Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.

Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.

Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.

October 21, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Puppeteers Take Harlem by Storm

[republished from Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily]

You could call the Puppeteers a latin jazz band, but they’re a lot more than that. Pianist Arturo O’Farrill brings everything he does in the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (who have a phenomenal new album, The Offense of the Drum, coming out): Afro-Cuban grooves, symphonic gravitas and a biting edge that sometimes slinks off into noir. Vibraphonist Bill Ware also brings some of the noir he does so memorably in the Jazz Passengers, but his duels with O’Farrill on the band’s debut album make it one of the most flat-out exciting jazz albums released in the past several months. Thursday night at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem, the two were wise to put bassist Alex Blake out front: with his terse but frenetically hammering solos on both bass and bass guitar along with his nonchalantly animated scatting, he was a big hit with the crowd. And he did all that sitting down for practically the whole show. With a fullsize bass, to call that a stretch is no joke, but Blake reached way up for the low notes – surreal, huh? – and made it look effortless.

Drummer Jaime Affoumado played mostly with brushes, deftly shifting from one Spanish Caribbean beat to another and then to straight-up funk from time to time. His purposeful drive kept one of the early numbers from drifting into Mad Men soundtrack territory. During a solo later on, he wryly impersonated a salsa percussion section, first with timbale riffage on the bell of the ride cymbal, then tapping out a bomba beat on the snare.

This gig was more about friendly camaraderie and exploration than megawatt solos. O’Farrill brought an unexpected and very effective wariness to a tempo-shifting, dynamic take of Resolutions, Ware and then Blake maintaining the mood throughout expansive solos. Ware’s jazz waltz Peaceful Moment gave the vibraphonist a chance go to deep into lushly lingering, nocturnal Milt Jackson territory before picking up the pace. Later the band looked back to Coltrane for a take of Soul Eyes that began with a resonant tenderness and then went on a methodical trajectory upward.

On this particular night, the version of Ware’s Bio Diesel was a lot more warmly straight-up and funky than the surrealistically bubbly album track – Ware revealed that he’d written it for his girlfriend, who works in alternative energy. Papo Vasquez’s Not Now Right Now got the night’s most acerbic, hard-hitting crescendos from both O’Farrill and Ware, but the night’s most memorable number, by O’Farrill, was arguably its most pensive one. Opening with a poignant neoromantic glimmer, the pianist then brought his trumpeter son Adam up to contribute an almost minimalistically wired solo, carefully and methodically crafting an uneasy mood that the rest of the band kept close to the vest and never deviated from.

June 7, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy Intensity on Sara Serpa and Andre Matos’ New Duo Album

Sara Serpa is one of the most distinctive voices in any style of music, and widely regarded as the most original vocalist in jazz. A protegee of legendary noir pianist Ran Blake, vocalese is her thing. She doesn’t often sing lyrics, preferring the role of instrumentalist. But what an instrumentalist! Her hauntingly clear, crystalline soprano made the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra’s debut album one of the most arresting releases of this past year. She’s got a new duo album, Primavera, with her partner, guitarist/tunesmith Andre Matos and an album release show May 22 at 8 PM at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village on an excellent doublebill with the similarly inclined Emilie Weibel, who’s releasing her playfully quirky oMoO solo vocal project.

Serpa’s earlier compositions are meticulously constructed, and more shapeshifting and longscale than the terse pieces here. The album opens with the title track, a loopy vocal phrase underpinned by uneasy guitar, down to a lull and then up with a dancing crescendo. Tempo, the first of Matos’ compositions here, is a guarded waltz, a horror film theme minus the strings. It’s good to see Serpa asserting herself as a pianist – on this track, on Fender Rhodes – as well a a singer.

Rios, another Matos number, is a catchy waltz, the opposite of the previous number, but just as catchy, lit up by some frenetic melodica from Leo Genovese. Choro, also by Matos, juxtaposes flitty guitar and Greg Osby soprano sax against Serpa’s resolute vocals. A Serpa original, Kubana is just plain amazing, her soaring, multitracked vocals harmonizing with Matos’ understatedly gorgeous, jangly chords all the way up to a haunting, anthemic conclusion.

Another Serpa original, Song for a Sister is a warm, springlike number, Matos’ spacious, methodical interlude giving way to gently dreamy, shimmery vocals. Caminho, by Matos, brings back a brooding, waltzing theme, a Lynchian summer theme that darkens as it goes along.

Matos and Serpa join for restrained, almost skeletal settings of Alberto Caeiro poems, then Serpa’s Novem works a circular theme that goes swinging with a hypnotic piano/guitar vamp – it’s Wes Montgomery noir, if such a thing can exist. They reinvent the Ran Blake/Jeanne Lee classic, Vanguard, as a spaciously unwinding, uneasily matter-of-fact theme, expanding beyond the luminous mystery of the original. Gardening, by Matos, cleverly morphs from a canon to a dance over a catchy, nonchalant guitar loop. They do Guillermo Klein’s Se Me Va La Luz as an insistent anthem fueled by Matos’ percussive chords and close with a bluesy Serpa setting of an E.E. Cummings [Ha Ha, So There] poem in the same spare, resonant vein as Tin Hat’s versions of that poet’s stuff from a couple of years ago. Up to this point, intensity has been Serpa’s great shining quality; as spare, and sometimes low-key, and fun as this album is, she hasn’t relented, and Matos keeps pace all the way.

May 17, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tuneful, Labyrinthine, Edgy New Album from the Danny Fox Trio

Danielle Spradley‘s cd cover illustration on the Danny Fox Trio‘s new album Wide Eyed is a woodcut in the style of Paul Klee. In the lower righthand corner, there’s a guy with an accordion – or is it a piano? – strapped to his back, facing a vortex. In some ways, Fox is a smart guy surrounded by idiots – but obviously not in his regular band, featuring bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman. They’re playing the album release show on May 9 at 8 PM at Subculture; cover is $15.

Much as there’s plenty of good jazz coming out of New York, the annoying affectations of indie rock have filtered into some of it. Spastic, burp-and-fart jazz has been around a long time, but there’s a Brooklyn clique who’ve taken it to new levels of awkwardness. Fox, who can conjure melody and meaning out of thin air, is a refreshing antidote to that. He has a distinctive, instantly recognizable voice on the piano, his shapeshifting, neoromantically-infused melodies with an almost ADD restlessness coupled with a wit that’s sometimes devious and sometimes gives way to exasperation and anger. The compositions here are more labyrinthine than those on Fox’s previous album, 2012′s cinematic The One Constant: it’s almost as if he decided to take everything in his tunebook and get it all in the can.

Although the idiom here is jazz, there’s an interweave of themes here that draws a straight line back to Beethoven and Haydn. The opening track, Sterling, is characteristic: impatient circular riffage gives way to rippling neoromantics and then a mathrock stroll that Fox finally leaves with an unexpectedly bluesy warmth, followed by a cleverly implied modal theme and then back to variations on the mathrock. That’s a lot to digest, but the band makes it look easy.

Bonkers circles around a rather petulant theme that Fox ends by enlisting his bandmates in a valiant attempt to make rhythmic sense of it. All Tolled takes a bell-like, Mompou-esque hook and builds to wry, sardonic, dynamically charged variations, bringing to mind the satire of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The catchy, scurrying Drone – maybe about a drone zeroing in on its target? – peaks out with a rippling, circular piano hook. The wounded but undeterred title track is the closest thing here to the moody elegance of Fox’s previous album, while Confederates brings back the sarcasm, from a judiciously spacious intro to an exuberant march that’s too exuberant by half.

Short Al in Brooklyn – a shout-out to a notorious WFAN caller – starts as laid-back summery groove that never really finds its center notwithstanding Fox’s jaunty phrasing. Could it be that Short Al is short something else maybe? Fox follows that with Patriot Daze, a contemplative neoromantic mood piece and then Punches, a rippling departure into water music fueled by Goldman’s wavelike cymbals, dancing bass and a couple of droll ascents on the piano. Funhouse Memory is a mini-suite, loopy phrasing making way for an unexpectedly otherworldly, outer-space interlude, Fox’s aggressive block chords hitting a bluesy groove and then more neoromanticisms. Tumble Quiet, which Goldman drives from moody, echoey spaciousness to a prowling, loopy vamp, ends suddenly and enigmatically, as Fox often does here. Endings can be messy and Fox isn’t afraid to hit them head-on. There’s a lot to sink your ears into here.

May 4, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wickedly Fun, Adrenalizing Sounds from the Puppeteers

The Puppeteers‘ debut album is packed with the kind of fun you would expect a bunch of guys to be having at their local. Which is where the band came together, and where they got their name, from the now-defunct South Slope, Brooklyn jazz bar. The ringleaders of the band are polymath pianist Arturo O’Farrill and Jazz Passengers vibraphone powerhouse Bill Ware, with Alex Blake on bass and Jaime Affoumado on drums. It’s a wild, adrenalizing, tuneful ride.

Ware sets the stage with an impossibly machineguning solo that O’Farrill just has to match, and he does, and then he leaves it to the rhythm section. That’s the lickety-split swing tune, On the Spot, that opens the album. Another tune by Blake, Jumping, puts O’Farrill in the driver’s seat, and he owns it all the way through its clenched-teeth noir swing to a crash of an ending. In Whom is a distinctive, chromatically-charged O’Farrill tune, and another blast of adrenaline from the pianist. He gets plenty of high-fives for his role leading the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, a unit that doesn’t give him as much room to cut loose and show off his blazing chops like he does here.

Ware fuels the agile, waltzing Peaceful Moment (peaceful, yeah, right!) with a tightly wound baroque-tinged intensity, O’Farrill’s sizzling righthand spirals contrasting with the minimalist bass solo and then the vibraphone-driven ballad that the song morphs into. Bio Diesel, by Ware, has a lively, bracing offcenter sway, as if to say, “We’re fueled by something weird, but it’s working.”

O’Farrill elevates Affoumado’s ballad Dreams of Dad with rapidfire, bluesy spirals that keep going even as the drums drop out: the adrenaline just won’t stop. Likewise, O’Farrill’s jackhammer lefthand propels Papo Vasquez’s Not Now Right Now up to a clever, intricate interweave of upper righthand bustle in tandem with the vibes. Then Ware’s latin-tinged Lonely Days Are Gone (a Box Tops reference) contrasts O’Farrill’s spins and dips with Ware’s tersely swinging lines. They wind up the album with another Ware tune, The Right Time, with a similar dichotomy, Ware playing voice of reason to O’Farrill’s cyclotron pyrotechnics. Has the word “adrenaline” appeared here yet?

A word about the venue the band takes their name from: wrong place, wrong time. Situated about equidistant from Barbes and I-Beam (and now Shapeshifter Lab), Puppets had good sound, great food and the best veggie burger beyond the outskirts of Rastafarian Crown Heights. But they were never able to catch on with the youngish crowd that comes out to I-Beam for cutting-edge sounds and the latin-inclined acts favored at Barbes – or with an older neighborhood crowd that might have been into Puppets’ more oldschool postbop acts. Charging more of a cover than their neighbors probably had something to do with that too. Until tourists other than those who live there start to make the South Slope a destination – or the neighborhood is taken over completely by a Wall Street crowd – would-be impresarios should take notice.

April 23, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment