Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Muhal Richard Abrams Leaves Us With a Knowing Wink

Muhal Richard Abrams knew as much about writing for large improvising ensembles as anyone who ever lived. So it’s no surprise that one of his late largescale works, Soundpath, would be as erudite as it is playful and fun. The seventeen-piece Warriors of the Wonderful Sound’s new recording – streaming at Bandcamp – is creative jazz as entertainment, a lively, dynamic uninterrupted, roughly forty-minute suite.

The group are a mix of big names, up-and-coming players and familiar faces from the free jazz demimonde. They unfold this brighty, brassy theme and variations symphonically, with plenty accommodation for individual contributions. Abrams uses every trick in the book to his advantage: false endings, suspenseful foreshadowing with varying numbers of voices, and conversations everywhere. The full ensemble is only engaged all at once in maybe twenty percent of the piece, if that. Otherwise, it’s remarkably spacious, with lots of pairings and moments where the whole orchestra emphatically punches in and out.

The genial, brassy floating swing behind the opening theme recurs throughout the performance, but there are plenty of airy interludes where the rhythm drops out. Pianist Tom Lawton excels in the bad-cop role: he’s the only one who gets anything in the way of disquieting modes. Bassist Michael Formanek is as much rhythmic center, maybe more than drummer Chad Taylor, the latter of whom gets to lead the shenanigans as the coda, with its innumerable moments of amusement, gathers steam.

While there are interludes where this could be any reasonably inspired chordless trio kicking into an energetic solo from the horn player, this is more about interplay, whether via jousting, or the whole ensemble in contrast to a soloist. Bass trombonist Jose Davila’s wryly gruff solo gets a very subtle but no less amusing reality check from Taylor, on his rims. After walking the changes for much of the time, Formanek finally gets to carry a thematic variation by himself amid the orchestra’s densely hovering atmosphere.

There’s a vastly dynamic, duotone-spiced tenor solo – sounds like that’s Hafez Modirzadeh – which cues Taylor that it’s time to introduce a steady clave; the way the polyrhythms shift from there is artful to the extreme. The ending is pure Beethoven: try listening all the way through without smiling. Impossible. At a time when in most parts of the world, music like this is not only illegal to invite an audience to, but also illegal to play, we need recordings like this more than ever to remind us how desperately we need to return to normal. A triumph from a cast that also includes ringleader Bobby Zankel and his fellow alto saxophonists, Marty Ehrlich and Julian Pressley; Mark Allen on baritone sax; Robert Debellis on tenor sax;, Steve Swell, Michael Dessen and Al Patterson on trombones; Duane Eubanks, Josh Evans and Dave Ballou on trumpets; and Graham Haynes on cornet.

January 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Dessen Premieres His Enjoyably Tricky New Suite at Shapeshifter Lab

Trombonist Michael Dessen’s New York premiere of his his new suite Resonating Abstractions, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums at Shapeshifter Lab a couple of nights ago was a lot of fun. Ostensibly inspired by the imagery of seven mysteriously unnamed visual artists, it challenged the audience to conjure who those artists might be as it pulsed along on a groove that proved to be as hard to resist as it was tricky. Weiss dug in and had a good time with it: although there’s a clearly visible mathematical architecture to both the rhythm and the melody, Dessen left just enough room for the trio to imbue it with their personal wit and rambunctious energy.

At its knotty but robust heart, it’s a funky, head-bobbing piece that takes a simple duotone bass riff and doubles it, then doubles it again over similarly minimalist yet thoroughly unexpected metric permutations. Overhead, Dessen carried the tune with a jaunty, warmly melodic focus and bluesy directness. Most of the suite (not yet recorded, a task hopefully to be achieved in 2013) is extremely accessible, although there were spaces where it was extremely not. The juxtaposition between the work’s long, consonant passages – which Dessen delivered with a wonderfully opaque, balmy tone, without recourse to either squalls or squeaks – was somewhat jarring, in contrast to where he utilized an electronic mute to add a chaotic, timbrally extreme edge.

Tordini anchored both the melodic and rhythmic center during those moments, slowly and methodically shifting from suspensefully resonant long-tone passages to nimbly pulsing, looped phrases that he took his time embellishing, and there was always a payoff. Meanwhile, Weiss neatly worked shuffling polyrhythms into his tersely altered groove, exchanging a few wry elbows with Dessen along the way.

The electronic enhancements were more successful with the bass, when it came to a long, nonchalantly crescendoing Tordini solo: Dessen limited the laptop to a slightly reverb-tinged sustain effect that fleshed out the many spaces between early on. As the suite wound up, Dessen finally took it skyward, flurrying and clustering, for a long-awaited yet understatedly resounding crescendo. Being a Chamber Music America commission might have something to do with its canny blend of minimalism and traditionalist jazz tropes. And what about those artists? Escher, maybe? Some of the 70s op-art guys? Paul Klee, in the suite’s more playful moments? Or maybe none of the above. The work’s less-focused electronic moments allowed the listener space to ponder questions like that.

November 29, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment