Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Greg Lewis’ Organ Monk: A Completely Different, High-Voltage Beast

Organist Greg Lewis opened his set at the Provincetown Playhouse a couple of weeks ago with a mighty, sustained swell of tritones that grew more and more menacing as the sound swirled and smoked through his Leslie speaker. Then he launched into his first Thelonious Monk number of the night. In over an hour onstage, he took the crowd on a roller-coaster of whirlwind riffs, purist blues, phantasmagorial chromatics, a dip into gritty noir, then up and out with a torrential take of Monk’s Four in One.

Lewis calls this project Organ Monk – and was giving away free t-shirts to spread the gospel of Monk on the organ, a “completely different beast” compared to the man in the hat’s piano originals. It’s amazing how much color and orchestral vastness Lewis gets out of his righthand, considering that he doesn’t use the pedals much, tirelessly walking the bass with his left, constantly working the drawbars for subtle shifts in tone and timbre. Monk on the piano can be creepy – Monk on Lewis’ B3 is terrifying.

Yet for all the pyrotechnics, the best song of the night might have been Lewis’ own, slow, simmering, somber, subtly latin-tinged original, dedicated to his nephew. Then he picked up the pace with a handful of tunes from his latest album, American Standards a collection of reharmonized Broadway and cabaret tunes that Monk liked to play Guitarist Ron Jackson was every bit as ferocious as Lewis was, capping off several solos with machete volleys of tremolo-picked chords and taking the intensity up even further with his circing, lightning arpeggios and clustering riffs. And who would have expected icy ghoulabilly chicken-scratch, or wide swaths of octaves that were closer to Indian raga riffs than Wes Montgomery? Behind them, their drummer used his hardware for playful accents when he wasn’t swinging the funk with an agile understatement.

The concert series’ organizer, alto saxophonist Dave Pietro added some high-voltage, Coltrane-ish flurries and stormy torrents on a couple of tune as well. It was a change from the lyrical. Ravel-influenced tunefulness he’d played at the festival’s opening concert the previous week, leading a great band with Gary Versace on piano, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

Lewis continues to maintain a punishing gig schedule all over town; he and another first-rate guitarist, Marvin Sewell are at Bar Lunatico for brunch on July 21 at 1 PM. This year’s summer series of admission-free jazz concerts at the Provincetown Playhouse on Washington Square West continues on July 22 at 7 PM with Rolling Stones sax player Tim Ries and his band.

July 18, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel Smith Takes the Bassoon Where It Wasn’t Designed to Go

Have you ever considered how weird it is that the bassoon is used so seldomly in both rock and jazz? The baritone sax has a similar timbre, and it’s pretty standard in funk and soul music and was in rock too, at least in the early years. Roy Wood famously used a bassoon in the Move and then ELO, and you’ll occasionally find a chamber pop band that employs a wind section in place of strings. But this magnificently cool instrument, with its unmistakably woody resonance, is just as rare if not more so in the jazz world. Daniel Smith is sort of the Charlie Parker of the bassoon, so how would it sound if he played blues on the thing? Pretty much like how he does his jazz gig. His latest album Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues is a follow-up of sorts to his 2010 album Blue Bassoon, a mix of bluesy tunes from the jazz catalog. In the case of this new one – streaming at Spotify – the songs date mostly from the 50s and 60s.

While Smith is the bandleader, he doesn’t hog the spotlight – although it’s easy to wish for more of him on this album. Technically speaking, he’s known for expanding his instrument’s range, sometimes with a tenor sax-like squawk, sometimes with a biting, ambered tone that the makers of the Arp synthesizer might have been trying to imitate back in the early 70s.

The album opens with Oscar Peterson’s Night Train, the bassoon more clustering and jazz-oriented than you would expect from a straight-up blues session, paired off against Efrat Shapira’s lively violin; a little later, Ron Jackson’s guitar goes in the same direction over the straight-up rhythm section of bassist Michael O’Brien and drummer Vincent Ector. The best songs here are the ones that Smith totally reinvents. Alongside Shapira’s acidic, acerbic violin, Smith’s take of Charles Mingus’ Better Get Hit in Your Soul gives it a rustic 20s hot jazz feel, right from where the whole band careens into it together. Once again in tandem with the violin, the bassoon adds a rustically haunting quality to Horace Silver’s latin noir piece Senor Blues. And they reimagine Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues as a Jimmy Smith-style organ shuffle fueled by Greg Lewis’ fireworks on the keys and pedals.

The soul songs are also excellent. On Ray Charles’ What’d I Say, Smith’s sputtery lines perfectly capture its gruff appeal even before Frank Senior’s vocals enter the picture, with a scampering piano solo, and a latin tinge to the rhythm courtesy of percussionist Neil Clarke. Another Charles hit, Halleljah I Love Her So is surprisingly laid-back, with a tasty, shivery bowed bass solo. They also do an emphatic version of Moanin’, the Etta James hit. And the Nat Adderley groove Hummin’ has Smith mimicking the tremoloing sound of an electric guitar at the bottom of its range – then he goes in a more funky direction.

The rest of the album includes a purist take of Jimmy Smith’s Back at the Chicken Shack, a showcase for Lewis’ lickety-split lines; a swinging version of Sonny Rollins’ Blue Seven; a violin-fueled run through the latin blues of Joe Henderson’s Mamacita; and the most straight-up blues number here, Phil Woods’ Eddie’s Blues, which ironically was never sung by the guy it was written for – jazz vocal great Eddie Jefferson – because it doesn’t have lyrics. Throughout the album, Smith pushes the envelope in terms of both how much register and how much of a variety of tones the bassoon can produce. May he be a big influence on the next generation of players.

July 2, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Saxophonist Carl Bartlett Jr. Delivers Sizzling Postbop with a Killer Band

What’s most immediately striking about Carl Bartlett Jr.‘s album Hopeful is the New York alto saxophonist’s fearsome chops. Quivering but stiletto-precise doublestops, bone-rattling trills and spirals from moody lows to stratospheric highs punctuate the solo piece that Bartlett opens the album with – ostentatious as it may be to show off like that, right off the bat, Bartlett pulls it off. The rest of the album features a brilliant band comprising pianist Sharp Radway, bassist Eric Lemon and drummer Emanuel Harrold, all players on the New York scene who deserves to be far better known. Bartlett’s tunesmithing falls into a solidly traditionalist postbop style, with expansive but tasteful solos and all kinds of electrifying interplay. This is one of those albums that manages to capture the band showing off the vigor and chemistry of a live set rather than a studio rush job. Bartlett and his quartet are at the Kitano on January 2 at 8 and 10 PM; cover is $15  plus a $15 minimum.

The first of the quartet numbers here, Fidgety Season, is a forcefully enigmatic jazz waltz, Bartlett and Radway trading up/down trajectories, the pianist’s artfully subtle permutations over Harrold’s suspenseful rumble giving way to a purposeful attack from the bandleader. The ballad Julie B benefits from a murkily resonant solo piano intro, Bartlett’s slowly unwinding lines handing off to a similarly soulful solo by Lemon; then Radway illuminates Bartlett’s balminess underneath.

Quantum Leaps (and Bounds), with guest Ron Jackson on guitar, takes a Steey Dan-ish theme for a brisk walk with a series of animated tradeoffs with the drums on the way out. Release is a bossa tune, Bartlett holding back resolutely from the resolution implied by the title until midway through, Radway latching onto the song’s inner bluesiness as it winds out with some clever rhythmic jousting. Seven Up works similar blues allusions over a syncopated swing – it’s Adderley Brothers gutbucket spun through funhouse mirror hardbop sophistication.

It Could Happen to You has Charles Bartlett guesting on trumpet and exchanging a series of energetically exploratory and eventually explosive, microtonally-charged solos with the sax over Harrold’s cool, cymbal-driven implied clave. They end the album with a lovingly lickety-split, strikingly straightforward take of the I Love Lucy theme, resisting the urge to indulge in buffoonery.

December 29, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment