Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Feast of Catchy Tunesmithing, Big Ideas and Picturesque Themes on Annie Chen’s New Album

Composer/singe Annie Chen’s imagination knows no bounds. By any standard, her music is richly layered and often lavishly orchestrated. There’s an unusual majesty and cinematic sweep to much of her work, especially for a vocalist. The dream world is a recurrent reference point, as are several striking musical themes woven throughout her songs, some of them drawing on traditional Chinese melodies.

Chen’s writing is extremely clever, and a lot of fun, often infused with an irrepressible sense of humor. Sara Serpa is a viable comparison, another rare jazz singer who doesn’t shy away from big. sometimes nebulous ideas; interestingly, both have roots outside the US, Serpa hailing from Portugal and Chen from China. Chen’s new album Secret Treetop, a jazz sonata of sorts, is streaming at Bandcamp; she and her group are playing the release show on Dec 9 at 8:15 PM at Shapeshifter Lab. Cover is $15.

It opens auspiciously with Ozledim Seni,Matthew Muntz’s stygian solo bowed bass intro over drummer Jerad Lippi’s rattles rising tensely with Chen’s melismatic, looming vocals…suddenly she hits a big flourish and the band is bouncing along with a distant Balkan tinge, spiced with Glenn Zaleski’s rippling piano and Rafal Sarnecki’s spare, emphatic guitar. Alto saxophonist Alex LoRe takes it down to a suspenseful, modal pulse, then rises with chirpy determination to where Chen leaps back in with her vocalese.

Majo Kiki in12 Days opens with a dramatic flight scenario and plenty of suspense, too; as usual, Chen flips the script, segueing without warning into a glittering nocturnal theme before bringing back the A-section An enigmatic, insistent, staccato bass-and-guitar conversation gives way to Tomoko Omura’s acerbically dancing violin solo and then a catchy descent beneath the stars.

Chen begins the ten-minute Chinese classical epic Ao Bao Xiang Hui stately and cool, Sarnecki’s sparsely circling guitar and LoRe’s alto expanding and pulling back. David Smith’s trumpet is a herald in the forest; spikily dancing piano fuels majestically ominous horn riffage. Buzzy guitar takes the song further out on a postbop tangent; this trip ends suddenly and counterintuitively.

The title track is a more direct variation on that same circular theme and variations, this time with expansive piano rivulets and a long, emphatic, pouncingly rhythmic crescendo. Orange Tears Lullaby has a darkly elegant, spiky guitar-and-piano intro and rises to a jubilant, precisely undulating theme spiced with stark violin. ‘Never doubt me under the covers,” Chen asserts.

The diptych Mr.Wind-Up Bird, Strange Yearning circles upward to a jaunty groove that’s part samba, part Chinese anthem and part mighty urban bustle. LoRe gets a long launching pad to sail and spiral from; Sarnecki plays it closer to the vest.

Leaving Sonnet is one of the many studies in contrasts here, a breathless yet precisely articulated travelogue over a lustrous backdrop lit up with a trumpet solo that grows from wistful to frenetic and back as the band shift in and out of a lush waltz. Chen weaves the album’s main circling theme into her syncopated reinvention of the 1980s Taiwanese pop hit Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree): the pairing of piano ripple and guitar clang is absolutely luscious. The final track, My Ocean Is Blue in White, a pensive tale of a thwarted seduction, has a surreal hint of bluegrass. There is no one in the world who sounds like Annie Chen.

Vocally speaking, sometimes it’s hard to tell where Chen’s English – still a work in progress – leaves off and the vocalese kicks in. But that’s not a big deal. These colorful songs speak for themselves.

Advertisements

December 5, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucas Pino’s No No Nonet Is a Hit

Alto saxophonist Lucas Pino is a highly sought-after commodity in the New York scene, but he’s also a formidable composer. He and his coyly named No No Nonet have honed their sound with a regular residency at Smalls for more than a couple of years. Their latest album, That’s a Computer is streaming at Spotify – is a classic example of a band with smart charts which make them sound larger than they really are (although nine players are a handful, especially if you have to round them up for gigs}. They’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, Nov 19 at 7:30 PM at Smalls; cover is $20.

The album opens auspiciously with Antiquity, a brooding, rather bitter jazz waltz over edgy changes that remind of Frank Foster or Chris Jentsch at his most intense. Rafal Sarnecki’s guitar lingers; burnished horns rise and fall, Pino pirouetting elegantly rather than going for the jugular, especially after the lithe interlude midway through.

Horse of a Different Color is a big, bustling swing shuffle driven by Glenn Zaleski’s piano over Desmond White’s brisk bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The interweave between reeds and brass – alto saxophonist Alex LoRe and baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas with trumpeter Mat Jodrell and trombonist Nick Finzer – is especially tasty, as is Pino’s wafting runs punctuated by the piano and then the rest of the horns as Macbfride works a wry offbeat shuffle groove.

The lustrous ballad Film at 11 opens with rainy-day splashes of guitar and a slow brushy beat behind the horns’ glistening, sustained harmonies, Zaleski in spacious wee-hours mode. Pino’s mistiness matches the ambience; the slow, minimalist horn harmonies as it winds out add indie classical astringency.

Look Into My Eyes comes across as sort of a mashup of the album’s first and third tracks: darkly catchy hooks within a lush postbop framework, Pino again taking his time reaching takeoff velocity. The circling flock of counterpoint kicking off Finzer’s trombone solo is one of the album’s high points.

The album’s most majestically towering number is Frustrations, guest Camila Meza’s wistfully tender vocalese juxtaposed with bittersweet horns, the rhythm section giving everybody a wide, spacious berth. Gutauskas’ bass clarinet solo methodically parses the enigmatic atmosphere.

A bright, incisive clave tune, Sueno de Gatos has Afro-Cuban flair, and an almost conspiratorial camaraderie between Meza’s voice and the pulsing brass, the bandleader adding bluesy purism up to an unexpected, massed-staccato minimalist interlude. The album’s final cut is a jubilantly strutting vignette, Baseball Simiulator 1.000 (if you follow the sport, you know that a 1.000 average means a hit every time up).

Apropos of that baseball reference – there’s considerable irony that a band named after a certain 1920s Broadway musical would be released in a year when the Boston Red Sox won their fourth world championship in the past fifteen years. The producer of that musical, Harry Frazee also owned the Sox – and sold off all their star players in order to finance it. The Yankees took on almost every single one of those contracts. Babe Ruth and the rest of what was once the Sox put on pinstripes and became baseball’s first and arguably greatest dynasty. The Bostonians, their talent depleted, plummeted to last place: it would take them more than a decade to return to respectability.

November 18, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment