Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Intriguing Evening With Trombone, Vocals and a Quintet in Chinatown Tomorrow Night

There’s an especially interesting show tomorrow night, June 9 at the Django at 10:30 PM which originally had trombonist Steve Davis, a purposeful but equally outside-the-box player, headlining. It turns out that it’s his wife Abena Koomson-Davis – leader of protest song choir the Resistance Revival Chorus – who’s fronting a quintet including her husband alongside pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Jason Tiemann. Cover is $25.

Koomson-Davis’ choral group got the thumbs-up here for an early performance at City Winery in 2017, so it should be interesting to see what political fearsomeness she brings to the stage in a more intimate setting. One counterintuitive choice of album to get ready for the show with is Onward & Upward, the next-to-last recording by the great drummer Ralph Peterson. It came out during the black hole of 2020, features Davis on trombone and is streaming at Spotify. The album title also has special resonance for this blog because it’s a key line from the best song released that year, Battery Park by Karla Rose.

The record is a continuation of Peterson’s late-career determination to carry on the Art Blakey legacy. The focus is hard-hitting riffs and solo-centric arrangements, perhaps ironically with more focus than the Blakey band tended to have. It’s mostly a series of quintet numbers featuring a mix of established and up-and-coming talent.

They open with the sleek, vampy Forth and Back, packed with short punchy solos from trumpeter Phillip Harper, tenor saxophonist Jean Toussaint, alto saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist Joanne Brackeen and bassist Peter Washington, eventually ceding to the bandleader, who goes to the well for a light-fingered display of boom.

Bassist Melissa Slocum has balletesque fun through a couple of solos in the tightly swinging Sonora, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy taking the energy up several notches. Davis and Harper bubble and soar before Peterson works his way around his legendary, orchestral-size kit.

The group scamper through the album’s title track on the pulse of Zaccai Curtis’ piano, Davis choosing his spots before handing off to Harper and then Peterson. Waltz For Etienne and Ebony begins bright and brassy and shifts to a coy series of follow-me phrases and a devious solo bass outro.

Robin Eubanks gets a long, goodnaturedly burbling trombone solo in the tightly swaying Red Black and Green Blues, trumpeter Brian Lynch driving it upward. Un Poco Haina, a Curtis tune, has a characteristically hard-hitting, syncopated latin attack with the pianist firing off spirals and handing off to bassist Essiet Essiet.

Tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce contributes Sudan Blue, a brisk swing tune with a whirling Kevin Eubanks guitar solo, the composer flying overhead., The group go back to waltz time for Davis’ dusky, gorgeous, distantly flamenco-tinged Portrait of Lord Willis, with his calm, stately solo. calmly and efficiently.

Brackeen’s Tricks of the Trade is a rapidfire vehicle for Lynch and Toussaint solos, while Lynch’s El Grito, a bitingly syncopated latin septet tune, gets a spectacular, quote-filled solo from Curtis and a sizzling timbale solo from Reinaldo Dejesus. They close with bassist Lonnie Plaxico’s funky, vampy Along Came Benny. with cheery solos from Handy, Lynch and Robin Eubanks.

What killed Peterson? An aggressive cancer, which is a common consequence of the lethal Covid injection. He taught at Berklee, which requires it.

June 8, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hall of Fame-Caliber Band Tackles the Entirety of Jazz History at Birdland This Week

Who knew that the estimable Carl Allen could play a Philly soul shuffle with the best of them? Or that saxophonist James Carter had a thing for 20s hot jazz? If he doesn’t, he sure fooled everybody last night as a member of alto saxophonist Vincent Herring’s ten-piece ensemble, who were playing the first night of their weeklong stand at Birdland. The concept, The Story of Jazz: 100 Years, is ambitious – sets continue nightly at 8:30 and 11 PM through Jan 27.

In a marathon hour and a half onstage last night to open the stand, they made it from 1917 to the late 70s. On one hand, that’s not as much of a challenge for this particular hall of fame crew as it would be for a less seasoned cast. This is an allstar band to rival any other one, anywhere. Sharing the stage with Herring, Allen and Carter were Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Jon Faddis and Jeremy Pelt on trumpets, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Mike LeDonne on piano and organ, Kenny Davis on bass and Nicolas Bearde on vocals and also reading from a script that offered a surface overview of jazz history.

Through the decade of the 60s, the group’s charts were fascinating; the playing was as sage and thrilling as you would expect from artists of this caliber. Herring and Alexander shared Coltrane riffs judiciously and soulfully. Faddis and Pelt threatened to pop valves, then shifted into resonant, peak-era Miles mode. Carter clearly saw this as a cutting contest, and he’d come to slay, whether mining unexpectedly low richness from his clarinet, spiraling and flurrying with his usual white-hot intensity on soprano sax, saving his most exhilarating volleys for his tenor sax.

As this particular narrative acknowledged, jazz first bubbled up in the melting pot of New Orleans in the 1890s but didn’t reach critical mass until around World War 1 with Jelly Roll Morton and his contemporaries. The group began there, blazed through dixieland and then a balmy take of Summertime, sung with august restraint by Bearde.

By now, it was obvious that this was going to be a greatest-hits survey. Basie got a nod, as did the Ellington band via a blistering charge through one machinegunning solo after another. Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ got a only slightly less boisterous doublespeed coda. Bearde particularly excelled with his post-opiated interpretation of Straighten Up and Fly Right as the band barreled and bounced behind him.

The 50s, a decade the band spent plenty of time in and could have stayed in for even longer, were most vividly represented by Take Five and its balmy, unexpectedly plush chart, and So What, an apt vehicle for Pelt. For whatever reason, the group saved Caravan and its whirlwind of round-the-horn solos for the 60s. Was Eubanks going to get one, as a shout to Juan Tizol? Yes – he ended up playing it pretty close to the vest.

They reinvented The Girl From Ipanema as a boogaloo: did anybody catch that wicked moment where Davis fired off a neat series of doublestops in response to a similarly slinky LeDonne organ phrase? Allen did. It was just as cool to hear them run a couple of impassioned verses of Les McCann’s protest-jazz anthem Compared to What.

It was in the decade after that where the band lost focus and phoned it in. You would have, too, if you’d been onstage. These guys all have substantial individual catalogs, and they cut their teeth on the classics, so vamping their collective way through one cheesy 70s fusion hit after another seemed rote – and unfamiliar terrain. Has anyone in this ensemble ever had to fake their way through a Chuck Mangione number? Doubtful. At least they did the club’s theme song – Weather Report were responsible for that one. Did anybody notice? The staff did.

Conventional wisdom among diehard jazz fans is that the 70s were a dead decade, and that’s far from true. This group could have had a ball with something by Ruben Blades, or Tito Puente – latin jazz was underrepresented in this particular set. An AACM interlude, like the group’s detours into dixieland and early bop, would have been appropriate. There’s got to be something by, say, Anthony Braxton or Henry Threadgill from that era that’s translucent enough to resonate with the tourists.

Devil’s advocate says that tourists have no idea who Braxton or Threadgill are. And that’s not true either – the Europeans often know them better than an American audience would. All this is not to criticize the band’s achievements last night – everybody is busy with their own projects, and there’s only so much time to come up with charts for a group this size. They’re there for the rest of the week for fans of history and pure adrenaline.

January 24, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment