Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Imaginative, Hard-Swinging Change of Pace and a Smalls Gig by Saxophonist Nick Hempton

Saxophonist Nick Hempton has been a regular in the Smalls scene for at least a decade. His compositions swing hard, with an eclectic, ambitious edge and frequent detours into noir. His next gig there is July 14 at 10:30 with a killer, counterintuitive organ groove band including guitarist Mark Whitfield, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka

Hempton’s most recent album, Night Owl – streaming at Spotify – is a good introduction to what he can do with that band onstage – and a considerable change from his previous work. It features Koehler and Tainaka along with another purist guitarist, Peter Bernstein, playing a mix of originals and some pretty radical reinventions of standards.

Bernstein adds an unexpectedly bracing, clustering attack,echoed by Koehler while the band swing the blues in the album’s opening, title track. I Remember Milady’s is a somewhat wistfully altered, similarly bluesy cha-cha with a characteristically smoky solo from Hempton, Koehler launching a river with his.

The band shuffle with lickety-split verve through their take of After You’ve Gone, the bandleader making his scampering lines look effortless, Bernstein having fun with a series of spacy hammer-on phrases. Then they do I’m a Fool to Want You as a brooding bolero: the shadowy ambience of Bernstein’s cautious phrasing, Koehler’s muted backdrop, Tainaka’s brushwork and the smoke from Hempton’s tenor sax is where the noir really kicks in.

From there the band flip the script with the blithe 10th Street Turnaround: it’s akin to what Jimmy Smith might have done with a New Orleans ballad. Corner Bistro – a shout-out to a rare West Village landmark that’s still standing – has a slinky 60s funk shuffle lurking just beneath its shiny, somewhat acidic surface. Then the band shift into low gear with the balmy southern elegance of It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream.

Hempton’s catchy riffage and a long, majestic Koehler solo contrast with the massed, enigmatic harmonies behind them in Listen Hard, Speak Easy. They close the album with the expansive Macao Mood, a rather jubilant swing number that doesn’t sound the slightest bit Portuguese. Anybody who thinks that all organ-and-tenor records sound the same (are you listening, Harvey?) ought to hear this.

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July 10, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Ray Appleton’s New Album: Truth in Advertising

If you’re not working in a classical idiom, why would you want to make a record of other peoples’ music? To reinvent it? To document where you’re at musically? To capture a group you’re working with before everybody gets busy again and goes their separate ways? To have something available to sell as a souvenir after the show? Or maybe because you’ve got a group that’s just plain fun, and you think that making a record would be just as good a time as playing a gig. That more than anything seems to be the fuel that propels veteran drummer Killer Ray Appleton’s, um, killer new album Naptown Legacy, due out March 4 from Hollistic Music Works. He’s playing a couple of album release shows at the Jazz Standard on March 5 and 6 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. If latin-flavored postbop at its most tuneful and entertaining, or bands like the Cookers, are your thing, this is for you.

The album title refers to Indianapolis, where Appleton got his start, mentored as a gradeschooler by Freddie Hubbard. That led to a long association with Wes Montgomery’s bassist brother Buddy, followed by a long career in Europe. Appleton now makes his home right here in New York; the band here includes Brian Lynch on trumpet, Ian Hendrickson-Smith on alto sax, Rick Germanson on piano, Todd Herbert on tenor sax, Robert Sabin on bass and Little Johnny Rivero on percussion.

They blaze into the album with a hard-charging take of Wes’s So Do It with blustery tenor and scampering piano, Lynch taking it to a nonchalant crescendo. Hubbard’s Backlash gets reinvented as a stormy guaguanco groove pulsing along on the wings of Appleton’s cumulo-nimbus cymbals. They reinvent Johnny Mercer’s Out of This World as a slinky cha-cha with lively intertwined horns and a long, bobbing, weaving Germanson solo. Melvin Rhyne’s Bamboo gets a similarly sly, shuffling, smoldering workout.

Lynch’s arrangement of Flamingo is expansive, with a stagger-step rhythm to keep things lively, and lyrical tenor and trumpet solos. Their take of Hubbard’s Luana begins as a noir shuffle and never loses sight of that even as the horns and then the piano springboard off it in turn. After a hot, horn-driven, swinging romp through JJ Johnson’s Fatback, guest guitarist Peter Bernstein takes his time warmly and pensively on a solo version of Wes Montgomery’s Quiet Thing, an unusual and welcome interlude on an album by a drummer-led combo. Bernstein gets to pick up the pace on a concise version of another Wes tune, Twisted Blues, a bit later on.

They elevate Norman Luboff’s Yellow Bird to the level of the rest of the material with Appleton’s clenched-teeth aggression on the cymbals and toms, Germanson moving from edgy modality to an acerbic, insistent gleam. The albums winds up on an unexpectedly brooding note with Maybe September that offers a nod to Tommy Flanagan, although the gorgeously morose solo here is from Herbert rather than the trumpet. Crank this album after a long day at work, throw the windows wide open, make your neighbors happy too.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eclectically Purist Solo Guitar from Jonathan Kreisberg

Jonathan Kreisberg’s new solo release, One, is a very rhythmic album, which makes sense for somebody whose main gig is holding down the guitar chair in Dr. Lonnie Smith’s band. But rather than doing anything funky here, Kreisberg keeps his mostly midtempo-to-slow pulse very straight-up. For anyone who might take a look at the track list and think, good grief, do we really need another version of Summertime, this one actually breathes new life into the song, as Kreisberg does with a bunch of other mostly familiar tunes and a couple of originals. One guitarist whose solo work Kreisberg’s elegantly expansive, often lushly chordal approach evokes is another busy New York player, Peter Bernstein.

Throughout the album, Kreisberg plays with a mostly clean, uncluttered tone, limiting his use of effects to a guitar synth pedal for an organ-like sustain on the baroque-influenced miniature, Without Shadow and then a whole slew of them on the closing track, an Elliott Sharp-esque sci-fi theme. The opening track, Canto de Ossanha contrasts  insistent, moody, suspenseful, chromatically-charged variations on the opening vamp with a bubbly La Vie En Rose brightness.

Kreisberg transforms Skylark into a blue-sky theme that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bill Frisell catalog, and does Wayne Shorter’s E.S.P. as a blithe samba. How does he get Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to work as an instrumental? By adding some unexpected ugliness, a brilliant move. His take on Caravan reminds of both the virtuosity – it’s amazing that Kreisberg pulls off as much as he does without overdubs  – and creepy pointillisms of the version on the sensational Ulrich Ziegler debut album. It only takes a few seconds for the chorus of Tenderly to springboard a nimble improvisation, while a rather minimalist version of My Favorite Things revisits the baroque. And a nonchalantly swinging take of Johnny Mercer’s I Thought About You gets some subtle ragtime allusions. Notwithstanding Kreisberg’s consistency throughout the album, it’s remarkably eclectic.

January 22, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gary Smulyan Goes Where Nobody Else Has Since About 1970

Isn’t it funny how the Hammond B3 organ and the baritone sax have complemented each other so well in funk music and ska for decades…yet hardly ever in jazz? For that matter has there EVER been a B3 jazz groove record featuring baritone sax? According to the liner notes for Gary Smulyan’s new album Smul’s Paradise (just out on Capri Records), the answer is yes: bari player Ronnie Cuber did several sessions with Lonnie Smith in the 60s, and is featured on Smith’s 1970 Live at Club Mozambique album. But in the past four decades? There doesn’t appear to be anything else! So this new album is especially welcome, an animated, warmly congenial, wee-hours collection of brilliant obscurities and originals originally conceived as a tribute to underrated 60s organist Don Patterson that quickly took on a life of its own.

Smulyan gets props everywhere, most recently as a winner of the 2011 DownBeat critics poll. This album is typical, in that it features his methodically aggressive, frequently wry, witty attack and smoky tone: Smulyan knows that there’s always a potential for humor in his instrument, and he’s not afraid to go there. Organist Mike LeDonne and guitarist Peter Bernstein have a comfortable rapport that stems from their long-running collaboration as the core of the house band at Harlem’s Smoke Jazz Club. Kenny Washington – Smulyan’s favorite drummer, and a lot of other peoples’ – propels this unit with his usual blend of scholarly erudition and counterintuitive verve.

The opening track is a radically reinvented version Bobby Hebb’s 60s pop hit Sunny- is this a staggered bolero? A jazz waltz? Either way, it’s a long launching pad for methodical, steady 8th-note runs by Smulyan and Bernstein. Patterson’s Up in Betty’s Room is a ridiculously catchy stripper theme of sorts, Smulyan in confidently deadpan mode, LeDonne enhancing the vintage soul/blues vibe with his bubbly, animated lines. Pistaccio, by another unfairly neglected 60s organ talent, Rhoda Scott, sails along on Washington’s blissfully subtle bossa-tinged groove. Similarly, Washington shakes up the shuffle on the catchy title track, capped off by a high-spirited round of call-and-response, everyone getting a word in with the drums.

George Coleman’s Little Miss Half Steps gets a bright, unselfconsciously fun treatment with some artful syncopation from Smulyan, organ and guitar again interspersed between the drum breaks (many of the tracks here were completed in a single take; this sounds like one of them). The most memorable number here is Patterson and Sonny Stitt’s soul song Aires, Bernstein channeling vintage George Benson, LeDonne’s lush washes of chords taking it up several notches. The album closes with the swinging, insistent Blues for D.P., a Patterson homage by Smulyan, and Heavenly Hours, a mashup of Seven Steps to Heaven and My Shining Hour. Amusingly (and maybe intentionally), the hook sounds like Diablo’s Dance (which incidentally is the opening cut on the highly anticipated new album of early Wes Montgomery recordings out soon on Resonance). As party music, this is awfully hard to beat: it’s the perfect soundtrack to 4 AM get-togethers when nobody cares anymore whether the people down the hall are awake or not.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ehud Asherie Goes Green

Ehud Asherie is an interesting guy, a longtime star of the New York jazz underground with a unique and soulful voice on the organ. A lot of jazz players go straight for the funky grooves pioneered by Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff and there’s definitely that feel here but there’s also a welcome fearlessness of the kind of power a B3 organ can deliver. Which is especially interesting since Asherie’s previous albums highlight his feel for samba jazz, a style which is completely the opposite. The group on this latest cd, Organic, has the ubiquitous Peter Bernstein, characteristically terse and incisive on guitar, along with Dmitry Baevsky providing color on alto sax and drummer Phil Stewart having a great time switching between shuffles, undulating Brazilian beats and some playful funk.

They reinvent Tonight, from West Side Story, as a shuffle, Asherie locking into a darkly chordal approach as he will frequently throughout this album; Bernstein’s expansive, exploratory solo and Baevsky’s balmy contributions contrast considerably. They play up the beat on Sonny Rollins’ The Stopper almost to the point where it’s Keystone Kops, choppy terrain for Asherie to sail through with some tricky yet perfectly balanced arpeggios. And a waltz finally, cleverly emerges out of a thicket of syncopation on Asherie’s Walse Pra Jelena, the organ adding an unexpectedly distant carnivalesque tinge echoed in Bernstein’s considerably more anxious second solo.

The most trad early 60s number here is the swinging, midtempo Apostrophe, closer to Made Men than Mad Men with its biting organ solo. Likewise, Jobim’s Favela is punchy, edgy and frankly a lot more interesting than the original, more of a straight-up shuffle. Bernstein grabs the melody and sinks his teeth into it, and Stewart takes it all the way to the depths of Africa with a boomy Yoruban-tinged solo. The rest of the album includes It’s Possible, a warmly lyrical, sneakily brisk original; a slightly smoky, stately and surprisingly intense version of Guy Lombardo’s Coquette; and a swirling, bluesily inspired Fats Waller tribute. A welcome change from a lot of the retro B3 albums coming out lately – and no pesticides either. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment