Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pianist Mike Holober’s Lavish, Dynamic Song Cycle Offers Optimism and Positivity When We Really Need It

Pianist Mike Holober is best known as a composer of picturesque, often breathtaking big band jazz. But along with his role creating cinematic charts for the NDR Bigband, he’s also a jazz songwriter. Fortuitously, he managed to record his latest album, Don’t Let Go live in concert at Aaron Davis Hall uptown in the fall of 2019, right around the same time that Event 201 was taking place. A project for his Balancing Act septet, it’s a lavish fourteen-part song cycle streaming at Sunnyside Records. Holober is providing an rare, intimate look at how this sausage gets made in a duo set with soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow at Mezzrow on Nov 30, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Needless to say, this symphonically thematic suite seems very prescient considering what’s transpired over the last 32 months. It begins with Breathe Deep, a lustrous dawn theme in the shape of a gently syncopated canon, Holober’s piano slowly taking over from Marvin Stamm’s trumpet, Dick Oatts’ alto sax, Jason Rigby’s tenor sax and Mark Patterson’s trombone. Chanteuse Jamile takes centerstage to introduce the first of the songs, Morning Hope, a challenge to wake up, question, and “clear away the lies.” Holober’s piano foreshadows that promise, handing off to Mike McGuirk’s dancing bass solo over drummer Dennis Mackrel’s lithe, muted rimshots. Bright, balmy trumpet and warmly cantering piano against hazy vocalese fill out an optimistic picture.

Jamile offers wise advice to stay on the side of love in Four-Letter Words, a verdantly swaying, syncopated number, Oatts’ solo outlasting a bit of a storm. He switches to soprano for a blazing intro to Kiss the Ground, a bnrner with circling horn riffage over driving pedalpoint: “It ain’t coming round again,” Jamile warns before Mackrel takes it out unexpectedly.

Burnin’ Daylight begins warily, then brightens with Patterson’s spacious solo over an altered latin groove, Holober returning to an earlier, casually determined theme, Jamile cautioning us to keep our eye on the ball. There’s a similar trajectory from unease to distantly New Orleans-flavored ebullience in A Summer Midnight’s Dream. Necessary, the conclusion, allusively speaks to issues of personal sovereignty over a pouncing, icepick rhythm, with incisive solos from trombone and the saxes

Holober opens the second disc with I Wonder, his judicious, icily Messiaen-tinged solo introducing a slightly more driving variation on the initial cantering theme as Jamile channels her refusal to concede to fear. Although You’re a Long Way from Home has folksy, pastoral tinges, the unease persists despite Patterson’s genial, low-key solo.

Mackrel’s misty brushes underpin Holober’s spacious piano, Jamile tracing a trail of betrayal in You Never Know, Stamm adding a bittersweet, lingering solo as the rhythm subtly shifts into swing. Smile Slow, a summery interlude for Holober and Rigby, sets up Letting Go, a lilting, bossa-tinged ballad with a judicious but opaque soprano sax solo at the center.

Holober weaves the first disc’s jumping final theme into Touch the Sky, with more of a tropical bounce and a lively two-sax conversation: it’s the album’s most entertaining number. The concert ends with Don’t Let Go, Jamile asserting that “Things are better than they seem” and holding out hope over Holober’s tersely undulating melody, Rigby bringing in an inviting, final cloud cover. More jazz artists should make live albums like this one.

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November 24, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epic, Stormy Grandeur From Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Pianist Mike Holober has been busy as an arranger lately – his charts for the NDR Bigband are out-of-the-box exquisite – but has made a welcome return to his role as leader of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra. Their epic new double album Hiding Out – streaming at Spotify – is the Grand Canyon Suite of jazz. Its initial inspirations are the grandeur of the American West, and a long-abused tributary that flows into Manhattan Harbor. Its boundless energy and intensity are pure New York. If you need music that makes your pulse race, this is your fix.

Built around a suspenseful “over here!” riff, the practically fourteen-minute opening diptych, Jumble, takes on a catchy, cantering maracatu pulse, with gusts from around the orchestra bursting in and out of the sonic picture: if Carl Nielsen had been a jazz guy, he might have sounded like this. Holober’s low-key Rhodes solo offers barely a hint of how far alto saxophonist Jon Gordon’s crescendo is going to go; likewise, guitarist Jesse Lewis’ waves upward into the combustible stratosphere.

Most of the rest of the album is two suites. Flow, a Hudson River epic, begins with lushly acidic, shifting tectonic sheets over a suspenseful tiptoe beat: the effect when the low brass and bass enter is nothing short of magnificent but just as ominous (look what the industrial revolution did to New York waterways). A subtle shift to a quasi-samba groove with towering horns recedes for a poignant Jason Rigby tenor solo against Holober’s glittering piano, part Messiaen, part Fats Waller in calm mode. Somberly blustery variations on a minor blues bassline anchor devious horn exchanges: is that competing ferries honking at each other?

That’s just the first part! This monstrosity tops the forty minute mark. Part two, Opalescence is slightly less expansive (eleven-minute), darker and more resonantly concise variation on the opening theme – Chuck Owen’s similarly titanic River Runs suite comes to mind. Marvin Stamm’s trumpet weaves slowly in and out, Holober slowly developing an achingly lyrical interlude. This may be a lazy river sometimes, but it’s deep. The concluding chapter, Harlem is introduced via a brooding interlude featuring piano and flute, seemingly a shout-out to the Lenapes who tended this land before the murderous Europeans arrived. Billy Drewes’ carefree solo alto sax kicks off Holober’s hard-swinging salute to New York’s original incubator for jazz, Scott Wendholdt’s trumpet flurrying away as the music shifts toward a more 21st century milieu and an ineluctable return to the turbulence of the river itself. The band take a jubilant dixieland-flavored romp out,

The title suite – a Wyoming big-sky tableau – opens with austere woodwinds, building to a enigmatically charged atmosphere that grows more broodingly Darcy James Argue-tinged as the cleverly implied melody of the second movement, Compelled, looms into focus. Holober works the low/high and jaunty/sinister contrasts for all they’re worth, Steve Cardenas’ guitar leaping through the raindrops. John Hebert’s spring-loaded bass pulse mingled within the bandleader’s fanged neoromantic solo.

A pair of miniatures – a bright, enveloping interlude and a moody piano theme – lead into the symphonic conclusion, It Was Just the Wind. Holober picks up the pace with a syncopated, somewhat icy solo intro, then the orchestra rise to a qawwali-ish triplet groove with lush horn exchanges, a leaping Gordon alto solo and a more enigmatic one from tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker against sparely wary piano and guitar. Although Holober eventually interpolates a warmly pastoral theme amid the swells and slashes, whatever was out there was closer to Blair Witch territory than the Lone Ranger out on the range.

The ensemble wind up the album with an expansively orchestrated take of Jobim’s Carminhos Cruzados, a wide palette built around Stamm’s tenderly resonant phrasing and pinwheeling clarity. There hasn’t been such an electrifying big band record released in many months, an early contender for best jazz album of the year from an inspired cast that also includes Dave Pietro, Ben Kono and Charles Pillow on reeds; Steve Kenyon and Carl Maraghi on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Tony Kadleck, Liesl Whitaker and James de LaGarza on trumpets; Tim Albright, Mark Patterson, Alan Ferber, Bruce Eidem and Pete McGuinness on trombones; Nathan Durham on bass trombone; Jay Azzolina on guitar; Mark Ferber and Jared Schonig sharing the drum chair and Rogerio Boccato on percussion.

February 20, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment