Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brian Landrus Does It Again

Low-register reedman Brian Landrus is on some kind of roll right now. His Traverse album from this spring is one of 2011’s finest; the one before that, Forward, from the previous year, is also superb. His latest effort, Capsule, credited to the Landrus Kaleidoscope (with Michael Cain on keys, Nir Felder on guitar, Matthew Parish on bass and Rudy Royston on drums) goes in a considerably different, mostly low-key direction while retaining every bit of Landrus’ originality. It’s an inventive blend of the 70s and the teens: spacy Fender Rhodes and electric guitar alongside rhythmically inventive bass and drums and Landrus’ signature use of the totality of his instruments’ sonic range. Here he supplements his usual baritone sax with bass clarinet and also bass flute.

Ironically, the album’s high point isn’t much like the rest of the material here. Inspired by a veteran drummer’s sardonic view of being a lifer, 71 & On the Road is a long, gritty, bitter, minor key soul groove in an Isaac Hayes or early Lou Rawls vein. Parish’s bass solo on the second verse adds plaintiveness over Royston’s tension, and when Felder finally bursts out of his tightly wound bluesy wailing with some unhinged tremolo-picking as the band vamps on the song’s brooding hook, it’s one of this year’s most transcendent moments in jazz.

The rest of the album is much more inviting and not nearly as dark. Landrus sets the tone right off the bat with the simple, direct warmth of Striped Phase, which sounds a little like what the Crusaders might have been like if they’d had Royston – who’s his usual counterintuitive, extrovert self here – in place of Stix Hooper. The second track, Like the Wind is a reggae tune – how Royston handles the riddim is too good a surprise to give away here. The band leaves it nice and minimalist, letting Felder go edgy and wary up to Landrus’ urgently whispery, lushly tropical bass flute solo. A staggered shuffle tune, Beauty gives Landrus a launching pad that he takes all the way up, as high as his bass clarinet will go, Cain and Parish teaming up for some Return to Forever outer-space atmospherics.

They go back to reggae for I Promise, lit up by Felder’s vivid rainy-night-in-Soho work – it reminds a lot of Pam Fleming’s reggae-jazz. The title track reverts to the warm, memorable simplicity of the earlier songs as Landrus artfully spaces his motifs, pulling some memorable overtones out of his bari sax as he reaches for the sky. Wide Sky hints at straight-up swing again, and again, and again, almost to the point where it’s comedic; the band comes full circle to close the album with an expansive ballad. When uploading this, you might want to pull out 71 & On the Road and stick that on your favorite haunting/intense playlist; the rest of the album then works tremendously well as chillout mix.

By the way, just to give you some insight into Landrus the individual, here are his brief liner notes: “I dedicate this record to all the animals in our world. I encourage you to find ways to support animal welfare, and I hope you realize how easy it is to help our environmental situation by becoming vegetarian. The amount of waste, pollution and suffering created by the meat industry is unnecessary.” That’s from a big, energetic guy who stands six foot seven.

December 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malika Zarra’s Berber Taxi Whisks You Away

Growing up in France, chanteuse Malika Zarra had to downplay her Moroccan Berber roots. Here she celebrates them. It’s a quiet, rapt celebration: imagine Sade’s band if they’d relied on real rhythm rather than that annoying drum machine, and you’ll have a good idea of what her new album Berber Taxi, just out on Motema, sounds like. Blending the warmth of American soul music with tricky North African rhythms, intricately yet tersely arranged, jazz-inflected melodies and lyrics in Berber, Arabic, French and English, Zarra has carved out a niche for herself which manages to be completely unique yet very accessible. She’s got an excellent, pan-global band behind her, including keyboardist Michael Cain (fresh off a potently lyrical performance on Brian Landrus’ latest album), guitarist Francis Jacob, bassist Mamadou Ba, drummer Harvey Wirht, oudist/percussionist Brahim Fribgane and violist Jasser Haj Youssef. All but two of the songs here are Zarra originals.

The quiet blockbuster here is Amnesia. Sung in French, it fires an offhandedly scathing, vindictive, triumphant salvo at a racist politician (Nicholas Sarkozy?) over a hypnotic Afrobeat pop tune as Joni Mitchell might have done it circa 1975, balmy verse followed by a more direct chorus. Your time is over, Zarra intimates: all the kids behind you are playing the djembe. Leela, by Abdel Rab Idris, is a gorgeous, sparse update on a Fairouz-style ballad with rattling oud, austere piano and gentle electric guitar – it wouldn’t be out of place in Natacha Atlas’ recent catalog. Kicking off with Zarra’s trademark resolute, nuanced vocals, Tamazight (Berber Woman) is the closest thing to North African Sade here, right down to the misty cymbals on the song’s hypnotic bridge, and the fetching call-and-response with the backing vocals on the chorus.

The title track pairs a reggaeish verse against a jaunty turnaround, Zarra throwing off some coy blue notes – it’s a vivid portrayal of the search for love in a distant place. Zarra’s casual, heartfelt vocalese – she doesn’t scat in any traditional jazz sense – carries the terse, gently imploring Houaira, and later, No Borders, an instrumental by Ba featuring some clever harmonies between bass and voice. Sung in French, Issawa’s Woman pensively recalls a woman watching her fantasy and reality diverge, Cain’s spacy, reverberating electric piano ringing behind her. Other tracks, including the knowing ballad Mossameeha and the breezy Mon Printemps, give Zarra room to cajole, seduce and show off a genuinely stunning upper register. It’s worth keeping in mind that even in the age of downloading, Sade’s Warrior album sold in the megamillions. As the word gets out, this one could resonate with much of that audience as well. Zarra plays the cd release show for the album with her band at the Jazz Standard on April 19, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Landrus’ Traverse Album Takes a Quantum Leap

The Brian Landrus Quartet’s new album Traverse is fun even before it starts spinning, or whatever it does on your ipod besides run down the battery. The big-sky surrealism of the cover art, and the photo collage inside the cd cover are priceless – imagine Horizon’s 1975 album Breathless Sigh and you’d be on the right track. But the music here sounds nothing like that. A terrifically tuneful, entertaining collection which could well be the baritone saxophonist’s breakout album, he’s got an especially inspired band here: Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Michael Cain on piano and Billy Hart on drums. Landrus uses every bit of his range, far more than most baritone players – he’s sort of an update on Gerry Mulligan – with upper-register melodies outnumbering the lows many times over. That’s also how he writes. His background also extends beyond jazz to reggae (he’s played with current-day roots stars Groundation) and even doo-wop, so there are simple, catchy hooks all over the place. Consider this a creeper contender for the year’s best jazz album.

It opens counterintuitively with a jazz waltz. Hart is at the peak of his game from the first of innumerable, devious cymbal fills – in a lot of ways, he owns this album. As he swipes around, feeling for a comfortable place to hang, Landrus goes off exploring from the highs to the lows and back and forth, followed by Cain who does the same. The second track, Gnosis, is basically a two-chord jam over a suspenseful latin groove, Plaxico holding it together as Landrus’ bass clarinet paints moody ambience, Cain following a trajectory from loungey to minimalist to incisively jabbing with rewarding results. He goes deep into lyrical territory with a long, solo first verse on the beautiful piano-and-sax ballad Lone, basically a setup for the album’s high point, Lydian #4. Its modalities driven by Plaxico’s funky bass – and an all-too-brief, majestic solo toward the end – Landrus’ bright explorations soar over terse, rhythmic piano and yet more sly cymbal splashing by Hart.

If you think you’ve heard enough versions of Body and Soul for one lifetime or maybe more, Landrus’ will change your mind. He sets it up with a long, expansive solo passage, then he and the band turn it into a slowly unfolding contest for who can come the closest without actually touching it. The fun continues on the swinging Creeper, with its irresistible faux-noirisms, Cain’s vaudevillian piano rhythms and finally a chance for Hart to cut loose – and yet when he gets the chance, he doesn’t take it over the top, instead turning it something approximating the tunnel in the Halloween House. The album ends with Soundwave (titles are not Landrus’ forte), a gentle, attractive solo sax sketch. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if we’re all still here to see it.

In case you were wondering, the 1975 album Breathless Sigh by Horizon doesn’t really exist – at least we hope not.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments