Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rare 1986 Wadada Leo Smith Show Surfaces

Here’s a really cool one from the vaults: a 1986 duo performance at Brandeis University featuring trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith – an early AACM member – and his drummer friend Ed Blackwell, the longtime Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman sideman. Recorded by the college radio station and just now seeing the light of day almost 25 years later, it’s a brisk, entertaining and warmly melodic romp, quite a change from the intricately, often massively orchestrated stuff Smith has mined lately. Blackwell’s performance here, as Smith has taken care to emphasize, is especially impressive because although his playing is completely improvised, it’s intricately thought out, a series of hypnotic riffs that he runs over and over again for a trance-inducing vibe. Either Blackwell had them up his sleeve all along – several with tinges of hip-hop; a martial New Orleans step, and a couple that sound like loops – or he conjured them up on the spot, which as Smith avers is the more likely story. Either way, it makes this new album, titled The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer, a goldmine for rappers on the prowl for catchy samples.

It’s essentially a ten-part suite. Not all of the tracks segue into each other, but many of them do. Smith goes for melody most of the time, a central four-note hook that twists and bends and then comes back toward the end when least expected. His tone is bright, clear, and ebullient except for the couple of occasions when he goes off-mic, with a mute, as Blackwell takes centerstage. It’s fascinating to hear how Blackwell pulls Smith into a series of staccato, insistent, minimalist phrases from time to time: he’s nothing if not a good influence. There are a couple of vocal numbers here too, the of them first building vivid, watery ambience as Smith plinks on a mbira (west African thumb piano) and Blackwell flails on the metal on his kit. The second is something of a meek-shall-inherit-the-earth theme with Rasta overtones (which are present but muted; one brief, lyrical passage here is titled Sellassie-I). Occasionally Blackwell will move out from the center, signaling a small handful of Smith excursions, but those are few and far between. More often, it’s Smith judiciously ornamenting over a trance-inducing groove or five. One cut here features Smith playing pensively expansive flute, contrasting with Blackwell’s most traditional, and most aggressive work here. They close with a number that juxtaposes balmy atmosphere with slinky funk, then the instruments switch roles; the final cut is almost a fugue, blithe trumpet glissandos alternated with those brief, percussive, staccato accents again, in a tribute to Albert Ayler. It’s a lot of fun, especially as it showcases a side that neither musician has ever been particularly known for.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

There is no other composer in any other genre who is so completely on top of his game as tenor sax player JD Allen is right now, and thankfully he had the foresight to get back into the studio while he’s hot. This new one proves that last year’s release, the darkly majestic I Am I Am – a bonafide modern day jazz classic – was no fluke. “The music told me that it wanted to be called Shine,” he recently told WBGO’s Josh Jackson with a wink. “I feel very shiny when I wake up in the morning…a nice quarter that I might find, a nickel or two. Shine is good.” In a sense, the new album is an extension of the terse, four-minute “jukebox jazz” style the group mined so richly as a suite on the previous cd, here adding a somewhat more vintage, exploratory Pharaoh Sanders edge. The trio feel remains the same, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston an integral part of the compositions rather than merely supplementary pieces (in a spectacular moment of triumph for Royston, drums very frequently serve as the lead instrument here). As before, melody remains absolutely front and center – if anything, the songs here may be even catchier, if not as dark. Allen’s stock in trade as a sideman has always been an ironclad, logically terse no-nonsense attack and that’s in full effect here. This is jazz for humming to yourself coming up out of the subway to the street where it’s a lot cooler.

The cd opens with Esre, echoes of the central theme from I Am I Am, Royston kicking it off with a flurry of drums, Allen entering minimalistically yet with a surprising amount of squall. Sonhouse takes an opentuned delta blues guitar riff and soars with it over an understated funk bassline and Royston’s Niagara Falls cascades. On Conjuration of Angles, Allen serves as the the anchor, calm and assured whether gentle and stately or, later on, playfully breezy as Royston colors it wildly with a little help from a bitterly brief hint of a solo by August.

Marco has something of a signature sound for Allen, variations on an apprehensively circular theme.The title track is a surprisingly gentle, reassuring ballad, almost a lullaby, Royston rattling around with heightened expectations, threatening to spontaneously combust, but he never does. The rhythm section remains on the prowl on The Laughing Bell while Allen provides buoyant contrast: as with so many of the tracks on I Am I Am, it’s a masterpiece of matching timbre to emotion. East Boogie follows, Allen morphing an old Ornette Coleman theme into a gorgeously warm piano voicing over a comfortably syncopated stomp. A cleverly echoey rumble, Ephraim has August playing off Allen and then Royston. There’s also a cozy, trad swing blues with a terse bass solo, both Allen and Royston jumping out of their shoes on Teo, and a boisterously wary final tune simple titled Variations. And the next-to-last track, Se’Lah has the rapturous, spiritual-infused feel of a jazz classic.

The trio have some low-key shows coming up: in Brooklyn at Puppets Jazz Bar on 6/25 at 9 and at the Stone on 7/21 at 8 followed by a big six-night stand at the Vanguard starting on 8/11. If you wish you’d been around back in the day when Bird and Trane were kicking up dust, remember this era has its own great ones too: you might want to catch more than one of these shows.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment