Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Brilliant Trio Album from Pianist Benny Green

Pianist Benny Green leads a trio on a three-night stand starting tonight at 7:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, continuing through Sunday and if potently original postbop is your thing, you can’t go wrong with these shows. It’s a launch weekend for his new trio album Magic Beans with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, just out on Sunnyside. As you’d expect from somebody who came up in the Art Blakey camp, this is a pretty intense album. Interestingly, what Green is going for on a lot of the numbers here is to bring to a piano trio the kind of harmonic jostling that characterized much of the sax/trumpet interplay between, say, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan on innumerable early 60s Blue Note sides. It’s an inventive idea that imbues Green’s compositions with a frequently haunting edge. The arrangements are pretty straight-up, pre-Bill Evans style, the bass holding to the rhythm and anchoring the lows, Kenny Washington doing the impossible by playing both a slinky behind-the-beat groove while pushing it with cymbal and snare accents.

The opening track, Benny’s Crib is a straight-up swing number that runs nimbly along the curb side of the blues and stays there until a rather wry turnaround. Kenny Drew, a terse misterioso noir shuffle, has echoes of both Monk and Brubeck and warms up a little with more of a bluesy feel before a similarly judicious, tightlipped bass solo.  Flying Saucer also echoes Brubeck with considerably more aggression and knottily spiraling permutations on a tight chromatic progression

Jackie McLean, an apt homage, has bite, a neat syncopated clave hook and bracing close harmonies. Vanished goes way down toward the abyss, a murky, often creepy ballad with a Chopinesque plaintiveness and richly suspenseful restraint from Green. Harold Land takes something of a jump blues and gives it a dark early 60s intensity.

The ttle track kicks off as a brooding cha-cha livened by Kenny Washington’s rimshots before they take it out for a crepuscular stroll and then back to the dimlit cabana. Paraphrase, true to its title, sways along with a nebulous unease up to a dancing Peter Washington solo. The ballad La Portuguesa moves from a mist of cymbals and plaintive pedalpoint through an almost minimalist, fado-influenced tune. The final number is the moodily bouncy, tango-inflected Further Away. It’s only February, but we have a strong contender for best piano album of the year here. For a good idea how this sounds, Green will be doing a lot of this at both early and late sets through Sunday at the Jazz Standard.

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

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s Legacy Does Justice to the Windy City

It’s been a great year for big band jazz releases and this is a particularly enjoyable one. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s new one, Legacy jazzes up the classics and celebrates nonagenarian composer/conductor Wilson’s Chicago home turf with dynamic charts that range from stark and suspenseful to lush and majestic. As you would expect from this guy, the band is monstrous, with up to 20 players, building from the A-list rhythm section of Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. A lot of the ideas here are very ambitious, but Wilson always cuts to the chase, with a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that logic and directness. Case in point: the opening Variations on a Theme by Stravinsky, which is less gritty eeriness than blazing intensity followed by a long swing passage with bright sax and trumpet solos. It’s a three-and-a-half minute hit. Who would have thought?

A mysterious bass pulse underpins the lushly melodic, warmly crescendoing Virgo, which they take up and back down methodically, swing it with a blithely spiraling Anthony Wilson guitar solo and later on intersperse some big swells with bright alto sax. They go out the way they came in. Variations on Claire de Lune starts as a slowly swinging piano blues, acknowledges the otherworldly theme and then goes doublespeed with jovial alto sax and gritty trumpet, and eventually a memorably slow fade. Likewise, Variations on a Theme by Puccini kicks off bluesily – it’s hard to find the classical tune here until it rears its wiggy head coming out of a deliciously tuneful baritone sax solo. September Sky, a warmly reflective, Hubert Laws-inflected indian summer flute tune gets an equally startling and effective doublespeed breakdown with the whole orchestra roaring, Rosnes bringing it back down in a heartbeat as the brass rises majestically in the distance against her wee-hours flourishes.

The rest of the album is a suite titled Yes Chicago Is… Referencing numerous famous Chicago venues and a well-known Dylan tune as well as the local sports franchises, it’s a very smartly crafted theme and variations, beginning with a pensive, nocturnal third-stream piano/bass motif. What comes after? Some striking chromatics; shapeshifting, melodic swing; a slyly insistent ballpark theme capped off by playful baritone sax; some nifty tradeoffs between swirling atmospherics and joyous trumpet; and a surprisingly serioso outro. Clearly, Wilson’s relationship to his hometown is a complex one – it beats the hell out of Sweet Home Chicago. There isn’t a single miss on this album, a real treat, which has been out since the end of last month on Mack Avenue.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment