Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Jeremy Udden’s Plainville at Bryant Park, NYC 6/2/10

Sax player Jeremy Udden’s most recent album Plainville is a warm, often offhandedly beautiful collection in the same vein as Bill Frisell’s Americana jazz. Tuesday night at Bryant Park, Udden (pronounded oo-DEEN) and his five-piece combo worked smartly counterintuitive, unexpected variations on wistful, nostalgically bucolic themes. It was the first concert we’ve worn earplugs to in a long time, a necessity that on face value seems absurd considering that Plainville’s music is contemplative and generally quiet. More about that later. With Pete Rende alternating between accordion and electric piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Bill Campbell on drums and sub banjoist Noam Pikelny clearly having a lot of fun taking the place of Udden’s usual collaborator Brandon Seabrook, they included a handful of new cuts alongside the older material along with a pulsing, riff-driven, tensely allusive Pharaoh Sanders cover.

The highlight of the night, unsurprisingly, was Christmas Song, the poignant jazz waltz that serves as the centerpiece of the Plainville album. Pikelny opened it, tersely, letting the band bring in the embellishments, Opsvik’s central solo beginning plaintively but growing vividly uneasy, like a family gathering where everybody knows it’s time to leave but never does. The album’s title track, named after Udden’s Massachusetts hometown, evoked early Pat Metheny with its bittersweet-tinged melody and long accordion intro by Rende. A new composition, Portland turned on a dime from simple riff-driven vamp into a brooding, wary ballad with a Wild Horses feel, courtesy of a brief and almost brutally terse soprano sax solo from Udden. And Opsvik’s muscular groove pulsed over Campbell’s modified bossa beat to anchor Udden’s cleverly playful flights on a number about the street the composer grew up on. In a way, it was a perfect match of music and early summer ambience, but in another way it was just the opposite. Remember those earplugs? They became a necessity with the first distant but still earsplitting shriek of the first alarm sounding as the bus at the stop around the corner opened its doors. Count this as our last Bryant Park concert, kind of sad considering what a great run this location had in the early 90s with all the jazz festivals here during the summer months.

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June 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jeremy Udden – Plainville

Sax player Jeremy Udden’s latest cd Plainville is a gentle, laid-back, warm and often very beautiful album. Eighty years ago, country musicians started messing around with jazz and western swing was born; this decade has been much the opposite, with a lot of jazz composers diving into country music. It might seem incongruous that Udden would represent his old Massachusetts hometown (north of Attleboro, over by the Rhode Island border: PawSox territory) with motifs more closely associated with the Old West, but maybe those motifs should be taken out of their usual context – there’s a fondly thoughtful, frequently nostalgic feel to this album. And it’s a real feel-good story, a comeback for Udden, who’d been rendered unable to play for a year while recovering from a debilitating case of vertigo. The lineup here is unorthodox and imaginative, Udden leading the band on alto and soprano sax, Pete Rende on manual pump organ or Fender Rhodes and Brandon Seabrook alternating between banjo and acoustic and electric guitars plus a rhythm section. Stylistically, Udden’s big debt is to Bill Frisell – to say that some of these songs would sound perfectly at home on a recent Frisell album is a compliment well deserved.  

The album’s centerpiece, Christmas Song, is absolutely gorgeous, Udden playing comfortably and soulfully over Nathan Blehar’s warmly incisive nylon-string guitar that gives way to a hushed bass solo and then the band picking it up, capping it with joyously swirling pump organ. It’s a holiday song for anybody wishing for something more substantial than what the radio bombards us with starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Another highlight is the steady, jangly, methodical 695, with the feel of a road song, pushed along by Udden on the cymbals this time. There’s a big crescendo with the Rhodes, then the instruments fall away gracefully, one after the other. The gentle waltz Red Coat Lane is spiked with banjo, a fluttery keyboard riff sneaking its way in mischievously. Put this on and get distracted for a moment, and you might think you hear somebody’s phone going off in the background. The most overtly jazzy of the cuts here, the bustling Big Lick introduces a dark undercurrent, acoustic guitar pedaling a single jarring note beneath a characteristically carefree series of changes. The cd concludes with the thoughtfully evocative Empty Lots, a tone poem of sorts opening with sparse bass over atmospheric organ, the rest of the band easing their way in, rubato. Like the aforemention Mr. Frisell’s latest work, this is a welcoming, heartwarming cd, the kind of album that could hit the spot just as much after a productive Sunday afternoon as for cocktail hour after a rough day at work. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment