Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Myra Melford’s Village Vanguard Debut: A Clinic in Good Ideas and Good Times

It’s hard to believe that last night marked pianist Myra Melford‘s debut as a bandleader at the Village Vanguard. She’s won so many awards and fellowships and such that it was easy to assume that she’d already done that…until a persuasive publicist prompted a serious twist-my-arm moment. On a raw, nippy, pleasantly mostly tourist-free night, with probably as much jazz talent there watching as there was onstage, this show was a no-brainer. Beyond pure unleashed fun, the early set last night made a case for how the music Tonic was booking fifteen years ago has become…well…the vanguard.

Melford and her group Snowy Egret delivered pretty much everything you could possibly want from an improvising ensemble. There were all manner of pairings, and duels, and conversations between instruments. Acoustic bassist Satoshi Takeishi’s devious leaps and bounds against drummer Tyshawn Sorey’s whispery poltergeist cymbals; guitarist Liberty Ellman’s good purist postbop cop vs. Melford’s deadpan minimalist recidivist; and cornetist Ron Miles’ tug-of-war with the piano, employing all sorts of elephantine extended technique versus Melford’s resolutely glistening undercurrent, were just a few examples.

It’s one thing to listen to the group’s album while multitasking. Immersed in those songs live, Melford’s multifaceted erudition was stunning. For one, the Afro-Cuban influence is everywhere, particularly in the rhythm, if frequently implied.. Sorey and Takeishi would typically build to a rumbling, floating swing as the songs’ long crescendos rose to the point where Melford and her merry band would take things thisclose to haywire but hanging back from complete pandemonium, then typically following a graceful downward arc, typically punctuated by a friendly bit of jousting or repartee between soloists.

Many of Melford’s compositions have an ornate, multi-segmented architecture, and this group is a propulsive vehicle for that. The most stunning moment of the set was a plaintively rippling, minor-key neoromantic piano theme over a stygian swirl about midway through the third number, The Virgin of Guadalupe, one of a handful of tunes from the group’s 2015 album. Other moments gave Melford a chance to air our her signature blend of vivid lyricism, knottily looping phrases and cleverly deconstructed swing And later, for about twenty seconds, she finally took the night’s single downward spiral through bluesy cocktail jazz – the kind that Dave Brubeck insisted that every pianist would eventually devolve to – as if to say, “I can do this in my sleep, bu I don’t, and that’s why we’re all here.”

Melford and Snowy Egret are back at the Vanguard with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 tonight and through March 6. Cover is $30.

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March 2, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piano Luminary Myra Melford Returns to Her Old LES Stomping Ground

Is it fair to call pianist Myra Melford a cult artist? Her music is so full of life, and tunes, and ideas and color that spans the emotional spectrum. In the NYC downtown jazz scene, she’s iconic, a status she earned in the 90s before she hightailed it for a UC/Berkeley professorship. She’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone starting this Tuesday, March 24 with sets at 8 and 10 PM and continuing through the 29th; cover is $15. There are too many enticing sets to list here: the 8 PM duo shows with whirlwind drummer Allison Miller on the 24th and then with clarinetist Ben Goldberg on the 25th ought to be especially good for completely different reasons. There’s also a reunion of her playful Be Bread sextet on the 26th at 10 and a quintet show with trumpet luminary Dave Douglas the following night, also at 10 – and that’s just for starters.

Melford’s latest album, due out on the 24th, is Snowy Egret with the band of the same name: Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. For a taste of the album – since it’s not out yet – give a listen to the final cut, The Strawberry, which hints that it’s going to be a boogie-woogie number before Melford takes it to Havana – and Sorey’s drumming is funny beyond words in places. Ellman’s biting circularities kickstart a series of divergences before Melford pulls everybody back on the rails.

As for the rest? There’s humor and irony, and a frequently dancing pulse. A handful of numbers seem to allude to the first age of imperialism in the Americas and the centuries of havoc in its wake. The first track, Language, pulses along as shuffling variations on a fanfare riff bookending a typically soulful, clear-as-the-Denver-sky Miles solo. An expansively spiky, spare Ellman solo opens Night of Sorrow, the band plaintively filling in around Melford’s spaciously elegaic, bluesy motives. Promised Land delivers some wry shout-and-response and divergent tangents within its syncopated staccato bounce.

Ching Ching For Love of Fruit – a slot machine reference, it seems – moves from a mournful muted trumpet/melodica duet between Miles and Melford to an unexpectedly carnivalesque theme, Takeishi mimicking a tuba and Sorey rattling his hardware. Likewise, The Kitchen opens with picturesque pots-and-pans drollery from Sorey, Miles and Ellman having lots of fun spinning plates and such before Takeishi makes it funky, then Melford takes it on a clenched-teeth, uh-oh trajectory.

Takeishi’s growling attack and Ellman’s fluttery unease pair with Melford’s lingering foreshadowing and Miles’ resonance throughout Times of Sleep and Fate, a tone poem of sorts that builds to a brooding, AACM-inflected majesty. Little Pockets – Everybody Pays Taxes sees the band taking some aptly squirrelly cinematics in a considerably more ominous, insistent direction: whatever you do, don’t answer the door!

First Protest works a rhythmically dizzying marionette theme, Sorey and Ellman leading the charge along a twisted second line parade route. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the album’s most expansive and moodiest track, pairs Miles’ funereal lines with Melford’s understatedly plaintive neoromantic precision, building toward a bitter bolero. Of all the cuts here, it comes closest to being the definitive one, spacious and pensive and quietly packing a wallop.

March 23, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tin/Bag Create A Memorable Late-Night Atmosphere

Guitarist Mike Baggetta and trumpeter Kris Tiner, who wryly call themselves Tin/Bag, have a tremendously enjoyable, low-key, late-night duo album just out, titled Bridges. It’s a memorably melodic, minimalistic, impeccably tasteful mix of original compositions for guitar and trumpet, along with one cover, Dylan’s Just Like a Woman done as laid-back wee-hours theme. Sometimes this feels as if they’ve taken an early 60s postbop album, completely disassembled it and then put it back together kaleidoscopically using only about 5% of of the original parts. Fragments of comfortable, trad jazz melody, from balladesque to bluesy, will pop up unexpectedly and then vanish – imagine a minimalist mashup of Sketches of Spain. Interplay is not the defining mechanism here: rather, each instrument serves as a complement to the other. Baggetta is subtle to the extreme, employing a clean, round tone with a tinge of tremolo or reverb. In the past, he’s explored a jazz approach to Erik Satie, and that influence makes itself welcome here. Tiner typically handles lead lines, with a crystalline, soulful approach comparable to Ron Miles or Ingrid Jensen. The chemistry between the two is quietly dynamic and richly effective.

The two best songs here – and they are songs in the best sense of the word – are the darkest ones. The title track opens with a rubato feel, as many of these do, and very soon goes into the dark end of the pool, David Lynch-esque with waves of gentle jangle against distantly bright but plaintive blues-tinged trumpet. The Truth has Baggetta opening it with gently plaintive, understated flamenco inflections, Tiner rising with a Miles Davis-ish majesty and articulacy over Baggetta’s calm, austere gravitas. And Maslow – a reference to some kind of hierarchy, maybe? – also hints at flamenco, then Tiner goes up and out just a little while Baggetta keeps it steady with smartly chosen whole-note chords.

The opening track, Bobo, kicks off with a subtly ringing taqsim of sorts, each player settling matter-of-factly into his role, Baggetta holding it together as Tiner takes his time and goes exploring. The other tracks are a clinic in the surprising amount of diversity that can be achieved within a simple set of parameters, i.e. just two players in mellow and thoughtful mode. Osho, kicking off with Baggetta solo, is a pensive big sky tableau a la Frisell in a particularly optimistic moment. It segues into the harmonics of Aurobindo, which reaches for a hypnotic ambience with judiciously chosen chordal moments and spaciously placed accents. Govinda, the most “free” track here, has Tiner fluttering and bubbling a little over Baggetta’s allusiveness. A question followed by an answer (or maybe the other way around), Inayat Khan is the most skeletal track here. Tune in, turn on, chill out.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: 3ology with Ron Miles

We’ve covered all kinds of jazz here over the years. The most recent good jazz album to come over the transom here was gypsy jazz; the one before that was all over the map. 3ology with Ron Miles is headphone jazz. If you’re into jazz, you know Miles, simply one of the finest cornetists around and a terrifically soulful, tuneful composer as well. Here he joins the Colorado free jazz ensemble for an absolutely psychedelic clinic in smartly spontaneous creativity, recorded live in the studio in a single day. They’re good at using modes as a stepping-off point for their jams; bass figures prominently and extremely effectively as a lead instrument, and they also like a latin beat.

After a solo cornet intro sardonically titled All Miles, they work it darkly and modally over an understated clave groove, Miles’ ominous solo evoking another Miles. They segue out of that into a solo intro from bassist Tim Carmichael, building to a hypnotic, circular 7/8 riff and a game of tag between Miles and tenor saxophonist Doug Carmichael. The centerpiece of the album is a minimalistic, noir masterpiece aptly titled Nightmares of My Youth, bass and Jon Powers’ drums expertly building white-knuckle suspense with scrapy bowing and boomy tom-toms. They finally emerge from the underworld, bass running a catchy, tricky hook as the sax plays a funereal theme that Miles takes somewhat higher before they return

The rest of the cd includes a captivating exercise in latin-inflected minimalism, bass once again setting the stage for the rest of the crew; a laid-back cornet solo over percussion by everybody in the band; a catchy, straight-up New Orleans funk number with subtle Middle Eastern tinges; a series of permutations on a familiar 6/8 soul ballad theme, and a concluding cut that moves from pensive cornet to yet another wonderfully moody, murky bass groove. It’s out now on Tapestry Records.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 5/4/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to the song except for #1 which you’ll have to hear live on the 26th at the Rockwood!

 

1. Jenifer Jackson – Groundward

Brilliantly gloomy, pensive songcraft: “Yesterday the motion had no meaning, yesterday the seasons were careening…Summer rain is falling.” She’s at the Rockwood on 5/26 at 9.

 

2. Melissa McClelland – Passenger 24

Fearlessly snide ragtime from this Canadian chanteuse. She’s at Union Hall on 5/27.

 

3. Ron Miles – Since Forever

Absolutely gorgeous guitar-and-trumpet ballad. He’s at the Jazz Standard 5/26-27.

 

4. Damian Quinones – Shadow in the Sun

Sounds like the Zombies! He’s at Tillie’s in Ft. Greene on 5/29. 

 

5. Amy Speace – Haven’t Learned a Thing

Pretty devastating breakup song, in the Matt Keating vein. She’s at Symphony Space on 5/7 at 8:30ish.

 

6. Gaida – Indulgence

Absolutely exquisite Levantine epic by this Syrian-bred chanteuse. She’s at Bowery Poetry Club on 5/15.

 

7. Erin Regan – Building Jumper

Self-explanatory and solo acoustic – beautiful despite itself. She’s at Sidewalk on 5/12 at 10.

 

8. Jay Vilnai’s Vampire Suit – Space Oddity

Odd, all right – this is a gypsy Bowie. 

 

9. Bobtown – Take Me Down

Gothic acoustic Americana. O’Death only wish they were this good. They’re at Spikehill at 9 on 5/17.  

 

10. Spanking Charlene – Where Are the Freaks

Damn right, we wanna know. Oh, look, they’re back since all the tourists and trust fund kids got called home to mommy! At Lakeside on 5/16 at 11.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jenny Scheinman – Crossing the Field

A delightful, bracing cd for cool autumn nights when it just feels so good to be alive. Scheinman may be best known as a jazz player and composer, but this cd is a multistylistic smorgasbord of instrumentals with elements of classical, rock, film soundtracks and ragtime as well. The band here is is an all-star cast of like-minded envelope-pushing types: Ron Miles on cornet; Doug Wieselman on clarinet; a dream-team rhythm section of Tim Luntzel on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums; Jason Moran on piano; Bill Frisell on guitar and many string players including the members of the ambitious quartet Brooklyn Rider. Scheinman is a master of many moods, and she packs a bunch in here. This may be a fun album at heart, but there’s an awfully lot going on and it’s all good.

 

The album opens with Born Into This, airy and ambient with shades of Jean-Luc Ponty but stark and somewhat rustic, absent any 70s fusion clichés. It builds to a mighty crescendo at the end. I Heart Eye Patch is breezy and playful over a tongue-in-cheek vaudeville beat with a characteristically jaunty yet comfortable Frisell solo. An upbeat piano intro kicks off the aptly titled That’s Delight, eventually joined by the violin.  Ana Eco begins apprehensive and ethereal and grows simply sad and wary – it’s a beautiful song.

 

A showcase for Moran, Hard Sole Shoe bounces along on an almost martial groove spiked with guitar accents until midway through when the horns take over for the piano and the baton is passed to Wieselman…and suddenly it’s floating along comfortably among the clouds. Einsamaller could be a Shostakovich horror movie score,  atmospheric layers of strings building ominously until they’re joined by the horns. It’s a two-part piece, the second opening on a lighter note but getting dark quickly. The not-quite Awful Sad is a pensive ragtime song for violin and piano; Processional, by contrast, is very sad, a slow piano-and-guitar ballad that gets eerier as it goes along, Frisell adding his trademark, bell-like reverb guitar

 

The most cinematic of the cuts here, The Careeners is a boisterous chase sequence. Three Bits And A Horse is brief and somewhat skeletal, its cornet intro building as Frisell kicks around the melody. A Peter Tosh-inflected melody to a staggered reggae beat with some intriguing tempo shifts, Song For Sidiki sends Scheinman flying over the guitar and rhythm section. Then Frisell and the cornet take over. The cd concludes with the thoughtful, ambient Ripples In The Aquifer and the warm open-skies tune Old Brooklyn. This is foremost a treat for jazz fans, but lush with melody that will get pretty much anybody humming along. One of the best albums of 2008, no question. Scheinman’s debut vocal cd, a somewhat rustic collection of Americana songs reviewed here recently, is also worth checking out. The Jenny Scheinman Quartet (featuring Moran, Greg Cohen and Rudy Royston) begins a six-night stand at the Village Vanguard on Oct 28.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment