Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Restriction-Free Show From One Of New York’s Most Interesting, Individualistic Jazz Reedmen

Until last year’s lockdown, multi-reedman Mike McGinnis was a ubiquitous presence in the New York jazz scene. He’s an eclectic, erudite composer and arranger, as adept on the sax as the clarinet, equally informed by Americana and music from across the European continent. With his lush nine-piece Road Trip Band, he rescued Bill Smith’s picturesque 1956 Concerto for Clarinet from third-stream jazz obscurity. But as serious and straightforward as much of his own work is, he also has a great sense of humor. It’s anybody’s guess who he’s playing with at his gig at 2 PM at Parkside Plaza in Prospect Lefferts Gardens on Oct 17, but it’s bound to be entertaining, especially as there are also dance performances on the bill. The space is at the corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenue, close to the Q stop at Parkside Ave.

One particularly colorful project McGinnis has been involved with for over a decade is the Four Bags. He plays clarinet and bass clarinet in the band alongside trombonist Brian Drye, guitarist Sean Moran and another trombonist, Jacob Garchik, who plays accordion. Their most recent release, Waltz, came out in 2017 and is still up at Bandcamp. The connecting thread is a frequent but hardly omnipresent time signature: they should have called the album The Three-Four Bags.

To set the stage, they put a coy dixieland spin on what could be a Mexican folk tune, El Caballo Bayo, then go fullscale cartoon on you. It’s obvious, but impossible not to laugh.

The joke in the second track, Runaway Waltz is polyrhythms – those, and a baroquely comedic sensibility. Waltz of the Jacobs is a brassy, Belgian-tinged musette, the four taking a couple of increasingly cartoonish detours before Drye and Garchik engage in some calmer, completely deadpan clowning around.

Invisible Waltz is not a John Cage cover but one of the deliciously slow, airy, sinister tunes the group like to throw at you once in awhile. The group go back to jaunty latin sounds with Puerta Del Principe, which also has droll hints at flamenco, unexpectedly stormy gusts and a head-scratchingly exuberant McGinnis clarinet solo.

Vaults Dumb ‘Ore bears a suspicious resemblance to a famously venomous Randy Newman song that Nina Simone covered. The band switch her out for a brooding, bolero-tinged interplay between accordion and guitar, then Drye adds a surprisingly somber extra layer before Moran takes it into increasingly fanged psychedelia. Finally, the jokes kick in, one poker-faced quote after another.

G is for Geezus is a buffoonish New Orleans theme. There are also bits and pieces of variations on Les Valse Des As, the wryly nocturnal closing cut, scattered throughout the album. Fans of funny jazz acts like the Microscopic Septet and Mostly Other People Do the Killing will enjoy this goofy but very seriously assembled stuff.

October 13, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Edgy, Entertaining New Album From Individualistic Jazz Cellist Hank Roberts

While thousands of New York artists were getting brain-drained out of this city, cellist Hank Roberts went against the current and came back. And quickly returned to being a ubiquitous presence at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene. His new album Science of Love reflects a particularly fertile period after his return here, recorded in 2017, but just out now and streaming at Sunnyside Records.

Roberts is an exceptionally versatile and purposeful player. Sometimes he’s part of the rhythm section, walking the changes like a bass player as he does early during the opening number, a careening swing tune that doesn’t take long to hit a colorfully haphazard dixieland-flavored raveup with a bubbling interweave from trombonist Brian Drye, clarinetist Mike McGinnis. pianist Jacob Sacks and violinist Dana Lyn over drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s low-key groove. The rhythm drops out for a surreal freeze-frame tableau while Roberts picks up his bow for extra low-end resonance.

The album’s epic centerpiece is a fourteen-part suite titled G. It opens with a title track of sorts, Sperrazza’s altered latin groove quickly giving way to Sacks’ clusters and then a bright, anthemic theme from the rest of the band, which they take on a loose-limbed stroll with echoes of the Claudia Quintet.

Many of the suite’s segments are miniatures, akin to film set pieces. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, distantly suspenseful interlude, an uneasy, Satie-esque piano theme, and a cello/piano conversation that decays from austere steadiness to playful leaps and bounds. Roberts wafts uneasily over Sacks’ brooding minimalism and Sperrazza’s muted, scattershot snare in the fourth segment, Earth Sky Realms,

Part five, titled D23 pairs Roberts’ bluesy riffs against Lyn’s coy, jawharp-like accents and Sperrazza’s squirrelly shuffling as the harmonies grow denser and hazier. How funny is Levity Village? It’s more of an expectant, resonant string theme. The two brief passages afterward flit and dance acidically, then Roberts and Sacks pair off in a more wistful direction.

A wryly tiptoeing. deceptively catchy dance gives way to the GLC Magnetic Floating Stripper, a cheery quasi-match that shifts to more rhythmically unsettled terrain, McGinnis’ soprano sax bobbing and spiraling in a stormy sea of low midrange piano.

A lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian theme introduces the suite’s practically thirteen-minute next-to-last section, which kicks off with a fondly lyrical trombone/piano duet, Roberts stepping in for Sacks with darkly sustained chords as Drye solos amiably. A shambling, undulating groove sets in as the music grows more dense yet also more agitated. Roberts’ solo, from stark acerbity to a little funk, is arguably the high point of the record. Anxious piano and cello trade off as Sperrazza rustles, then the whole group gets into the act. They close the suite on a surprisingly suspenseful note and then close the album with a rainy-day orchestral melody.

Roberts’ next gig is July 24 at the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival upstate.

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

Guitarist Chris Jentsch Air Out His Latest Vivid, Cinematic, Politically Relevant Suite

Where so many jazz musicians write riffs and then jam them out, guitarist Chris Jentsch writes lavish suites – which he then plays with remarkable terseness and attention to detail. His narratives are vivid and often very funny. His latest, Topics in American History, couldn’t be more relevant. Leading his sardonically titled No Net in what was the final live performance of those songs last week at Greenwich House Music School, Jentsch played with his usual purposefulness. restraint and sense of the musical mot juste, joined by an all-star cast including Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet, David Smith on trumpet, Brian Drye on trombone, Michel Gentle on flutes, Jacob Sacks on piano, Jim Whitney on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums.

Last-minute substitution Jon Irabagon did a heroic job reading his parts, as Jentsch acknowledged, adding both volleys of postbop purism on tenor sax along with wry, microtonally-tinged humor that dovetailed with the bandleader’s own sensibility.

The centerpiece of the show was Dominos, a forebodingly expanding tableau that brought to mind Darcy James Argue in particularly sinister mode. A sotto-voce, latin-tinged, quasi-Lynchian spy theme that explores Cold War-era paranoia, its high point was a distantly grim, hazily sunbaked Jentsch solo midway through.

The evening’s coda, Meeting at Surratt’s, was arguably even better. The band built hushedly marching, conspiratorial ambience around a wistfully folksy Ashokan Farewell-ish theme to commemorate Mary Surratt, the first woman in US history executed for a Federal crime. The proprietor of the Washington, DC boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators hatched the plot for the Lincoln assassination, she may well have been innocent. Ineluctably and somberly, the band made their way through its mighty, cinematic sweep, from southern gothic to Morricone-esque insistence, down to a single macabre swoop from Jentsch’s guitar, a body falling from the gallows.

The rest of the set was just as diverse and no less gripping. Tempest-Tost, inspired by an inscription on the Statue of Liberty, followed the steady if turbulent path of Ellis Island immigrants, Jentsch’s low, looming solo front and center. Smith and Drye’s irresistibly cartoonish dueling personalities brought jaunty banter to the New Orleans-tinged Lincoln-Douglass Debates. The uneasily expanding vistas of Manifest Destiny – with incisive solos from Whitney, McGinnis and Irabagon, the latter on soprano – grew more satirical in Suburban Diaspora, its vintage soul roots subsumed by blustery faux-optimism. And the night’s opening number, 1491, bookended a jaunty tropical-tinged shuffle with wryly jungly atmospherics – clearly, the continent was in a lot better shape that year than the next, when the slaver Columbus arrived.

May 6, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intriguing, Suspenseful, Ecologically Relevant String Themes from Dana Lyn

You have to love this story: it’s so 1971. A boy crossing an icy river gets knocked cold by a flying carp. He wakes to find himself in a mysterious underwater grotto, where a mother octopus gives him a magic branch that enables him to swim underwater just like the rest of the many sea creatures he will meet on his journey. An ancient white whale then transports him to the ocean floor, where he eventually discovers a volcanic vent. The vent suddenly explodes and blasts him back above the surface, where he swims back to shore amid a snowstorm. His family, worried about him, eventually track him down; he presents them with the magic branch and then falls into a troubled sleep. That’s the eco-disaster parable (you can read the original version on the cd package) that violinist Dana Lyn seeks to illustrate on her new album Aqualude.

Unlike what the title might imply – if you read it a certain way – this is not a sleepy album, although there is a definite narcotic, psychedelic quality to it. The obvious comparison is late 70s King Crimson. Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar growls and spirals, albeit with less of a grim focus than what Robert Fripp typically employed during that era, while Lyn and cellist Clara Kennedy team up for atmospheric washes when they’re not providing ghostly or flitting accents alongside Mike McGinnis’ lyrical clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperazza’s remarkably straightforward drunming.

The suite opens with a stomping, trickily rhythmic, distorted guitar theme that immediately kicks off the King Crimson comparisons. Moody cello builds to a circular, atmospheric theme, then a mysteriously tinkling, whispery miniature. The first series of variations on the opening theme dances and eventually spirals on the wings of the guitar, then goes atmospheric again. Lyn likes dynamics and uses them very counterintuitively, often suspensefully, in keeping with the storyline.

A twinkling loop rises to a sort of dance of the friendly aquatic animals, which turns more uneasy as the counterpoint between instruments grows more complex. Again, they swirl down to a nebulous miniature and then it seems they locate the volcanic vent: the jaunty guitar and drums against balmy strings build to a crescendo that’s less menacing than you might expect, followed by a slow, methodical, vividly pastoral theme. Spaciously ambient washes from the strings over echoey lows begin to pulse slowly, followed by a gentle blue-sky waltz that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bill Frisell catalog. This might be the subtlest eco-disaster album ever written, leaving plenty of room for the listener to reflect and fill in the blanks. As Lyn, a passionate advocate for the world’s oceans, says in her liner notes, we still have a long way to go towards cleaning up our act.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment