Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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