Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bird With Strings Reinvented Live at the New School

Wednesday night the New School auditorium on 12th Street drew a sold-out crowd for a live recreation of the Charlie Parker With Strings albums that transcended the originals. Sixty-plus years after they came out, the controversy hasn’t dimmed. Some see the two records as vital cross-pollination and a paradigm shift, others dismiss them as schlock and an ugly precursor to the syrupy orchestration that ruined a whole bunch of Sinatra and Wes Montgomery records. The involvement of Mitch Miller as orchestrator only bolsters that second argument.

The genesis of the albums is clouded as well. Conventional wisdom is that Charlie Parker, a huge Stravinsky fan, wanted to record with an orchestra. Was it time constraints, lack of label money, or the fact that Miller wasn’t able to round up an orchestra either capable or willing to play bebop, that explains why the songs chosen for the album are standards rather than Bird originals? We’ll never know for sure.

What was most strikingly rewarding about this performance was how much more present the strings were, compared to the original, rather tinny analog recordings (scroll down for a list of the talented up-and-coming New School students who pulled off this mighty feat). And as conductor Keller Coker told the crowd with not a little pride, this group swung the hell out of the music. For many students on the classical track, that’s a genuine stretch.

The role of Bird himself – thankless task? Monumental challenge? – was assumed by alto saxophonist Dave Glasser, who approached it with unselfconscious bliss. All but a couple of these songs are ballads, a showcase for Bird in what was becoming increasingly rare lyrical mode, and Glasser gave them every bit of elegance in his valves, more than ably channeling those graceful blue notes. He also duetted amiably and eruditely with guest trumpeter Frank Owens on a bouncy Dizzy Gillespie number – the lone tune on the program that wasn’t on the original albums.

The most striking performance was the lone number written specifically for the original sessions, Neal Hefti’s Catskill bossa nova Repetition. Dynamic shifts were strong and seamless when the orchestra would kick in or out. Oboeist Dave Briceno played Milller’s own parts with a crystalline clarity that surpassed the originals, and pianist Michael Sheelar contributed nifty, dancing solos when given a tantalizingly brief few bars. Alongside him, bassist Joshua Marcum and drummer Adam Briere walked, shuffled and swung tirelessly, in period-perfect early 50s mode.

And big up to the rest of the orchestra: violinists Daniel Zinn, Nathalie Barret-Mas, Sesil Cho, So Young Kim, Chloe Kim and Yukiko Kuhara; violists Hsuan Chen and Seo Hyeon Park; cellists Juie Kim and Mark Serkin; horn player Josh Davies, harpist Skyla Budd and guitarist Nick Semenykhin.

This performance was part of this year’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary as a New  York institution. The festival continues tonight at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem at 7 with saxophonist Camille Thurman and her combo, followed by stellar reedwoman Anat Cohen’s Tentet

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August 25, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flute Music for People Who Hate It

The Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band‘s album, just out from Capri, is titled Game Changer. And it is, both in the sense of advocacy for an instrument that’s still considered esoteric in jazz, and for its unexpectedly stunning sonics. Don’t think of this as a flute album – consider this a wind ensemble playing big band jazz, and when you realize that except for the piano, bass and drums, it’s all flutes, you”ll realize how brilliant it is. Ryerson was clearly fed up with being castigated for her choice of jazz instrument, so she rounded up eighteen (18!) other jazz flutists for ten long, lush, nebulously epic arrangements of classics, a couple of Neal Hefti tunes plus a modern bop number and one pilfered from the late Romantic canon. With their Gil Evans-esque colors, these imaginative, ambitious arrangements span the entire spectrum of the flute (the presence of many alto and bass flutes here has a lot to do with the lush sonics), creating a sort of a big band jazz counterpart to famed multi-recorder avant-garde ensemble QNG.

The album’s charts are expansive, pillowy, balmy, and often swoony: intentional or not, much of this is boudoir jazz. Bassist Rufus Reid (whose first solo is way up the scale, wryly consistent with the album theme) and Akira Tana on drums and percussion join with pianist Mark Levine to keep this big pillow on the bed. They open with a scampering Levine arrangement of the Clifford Brown classic Dahoud, with a solo from Paul Liberman; with its many timbral contrasts, it’s amazing that there are no saxes on this. Mike Wofford’s Gil Evans-inspired arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Ana Maria is moodily orchestral: flute soloist Marc Adler sneaks his way out of a syncopated thicket, choosing his spots as the rhythm section crashes.

Another Wofford arrangement, Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments has the best of the solos, from Hubert Laws, who keeps it cool and mentholated as band swings. Steve Rudolph’s chart for Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child has the orchestra doing it as translucent clave, soloist Jamie Baum’s alto flute tersely dancing, Levine tiptoeing over the cloudbanks into unexpected and welcome darkness. A Bill Cunliffe chart for Dizzie Gillespie’s Con Alma alternates between light and lustrous, waltz time and clave; it’s true to its era, with a lively Nestor Torres solo.

Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk is reinvented via a subdued Michael Abene chart with an unexpected moodiness: there’s considerable irony in how all these flutes give this otherwise rather lightweight tune plenty of gravitas, soloist Holly Hoffman maintaining the mood, then handing off to Ryerson (on alto flute) and then Reid. The other Hefti tune, also arranged by Abene, is L’il Darlin, Bob Chadwick’s bass flute seamless with the ensemble on the lower end through a series of clever rhythmic diversions.

Andrea Brachfeld’s long, energetic solo on Coltrane’s Impressions evokes the ebullience of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. There’s also a terse, bolero-ish Wofford arrangement of Tom Harrell’s Sail Away with Ryerson on alto flute, and an imaginative Billy Kerr arrangement of the famous Gabriel Faure Pavane with some nimbly shifting banks of sound throughout the ensemble. One glaring omission: nothing from the Dave Valentin book. Now there’s a guy who transcended any perceived limitations on his instrument! But that’s a minor quibble. Play this for someone who doesn’t like the flute and watch their jaw drop when you tell them what it is.

September 10, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adam Schroeder’s Baritone Sax Blows a Cool Breeze

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was aggressive, urban jazz. This one is mellow and breezy – but it’s hardly elevator jazz. Adam Schroeder is the baritone saxophone player in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. So it’s no surprise to see that he’s got his bandmates, one of the current era’s great jazz rhythm sections, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums along with the group’s superb guitarist, Graham Dechter, on this session. It’s Schroeder’s first as a bandleader. Clint Eastwood is a fan, which means something because Eastwood is a connoisseur. Schroeder combines a Gerry Mulligan geniality with bluesy Harry Carney purism as well as a remarkable ear for space, something you have to learn in a big band – or else.

The album, titled A Handful of Stars, begins anticlimactically: you won’t miss much by fast-forwarding past their version of I Don’t Want to Be Kissed. But the first of sadly only two originals, Midwest Mash is great fun, a casual blues/funk bounce hitched to Hamilton’s clave beat, good cheer all around, particularly when it comes time for a subtly amusing Clayton solo. Neal Hefti’s Pensive Miss is a clinic in terse, mimimal playing, done as a wee-hours ballad, Dechter adding a slowly bright Barney Kessel-ish solo followed by a quietly pointillistic one from Clayton. A matter-of-factly swinging version of Jessica’s Birthday, by Quincy Jones has Hamilton stepping out playfully this time. The Cole Porter standard I Happen to Be in Love gives Schroeder a rare opportunity to build some actual tension here, then it’s back to Dechter taking one of his characteristically richly chordal excursions.

The other original here, Hidden Within begins with a vividly whispery I-told-you-so conversation between Schroeder and Clayton and grows more expansive yet more spacious: the silences are as meaningful as the notes themselves. Understatedly jovial, the Barry Harris bossa tune Nascimento has Dechter moving from blues to sheer joy, Schroeder moving back toward more pensive terrain followed by a tricky polyrhymic solo from Hamilton. They do the title track, a Glenn Miller hit, as a brisk, snappy pop song, much as Paula Henderson might have arranged it. They end with a purist take of Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ and a bustling version of Cole Porter’s It’s All Right with Me, Hamilton taking it up all the way with a Gene Krupa gallop. It’s out now on Capri Records.

August 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment