Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Welcome Return For a Tuneful, Popular Vibraphonist

Over the past decade or so, Behn Gillece has established himself as one of the most consistently interesting vibraphonists in postbop jazz. He’s Posi-Tone Records‘ go-to guy on the mallets, both as a leader and sideman. He has a great ear for an anthem, writes intricate but translucent and imaginatively arranged tunes and has a remarkably dynamic attack on his instrument. He’s leading an intimate trio with Bob DeVos on guitar and Steve LaSpina on bass tonight, June 23 at Mezzrow, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25 at the door.

Gillece’s latest album is Still Doing Our Thing – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out during the black pit of the spring 2021 lockdown and never got the exposure it deserved. As usual, the lineup draws on the Posi-Tone A-list: Art Hirahara on piano and electric piano, Boris Kozlov on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Both musicwise and titlewise, the material reflects an unbridled exuberance, cabin fever unleashed on instruments, but also a wariness that the nightmare of the past twenty-seven months isn’t over yet.

The album’s opening number, Extraction is a cleverly edgy, pointillistic swing shuffle: on one hand, it’s funny to hear Gillece rippling and dancing across the pads on a real vibraphone as Art Hirahara plays chill chords in the background on an ersatz one, in this case a Fender Rhodes. All the same, it’s enlightening to hear the not-so-subtle difference.

Gillece holds the center with his dazzling, circular phrasing as the band stomp out the syncopation in the second tune, Rattles, Hirahara shifting to acoustic piano, Royston taking a characteristically careening climb to a clever false ending.

The album’s title track has a warm mid-70s Stevie Wonder feel spun through a rapidfire cyclotron of notes from both Gillece and Hirahara. Gillece gives Blue Sojurn a lingering, balmy intro, then turns it over to Hirahara’s expansive, lyrical neoromantic phrasing before conspiratorially edging his way back in.

Royston flutters on the rims in his tune Glad to Be Back, fueling a subtle upward drive from an easygoing vamp to increasingly incisive changes beneath Gillece’s steady ripples. Outnumbered, by Kozlov has an eerie, dystopic, late-period Bob Beldenesque vibe, with his tense electric accents anchoring maroinettish chromatics from Gillece and then Hiraraha’s Rhodes.

The pianist returns to acoustic mode for his methodically unfolding tune Event Horizon, building an anticipatory sway with Nicole Glover’s misty tenor sax in the background. Are we on the brink of something dangerous? It would seem so.

The last three songs on the album are by the prolific Gillece. Back to Abnormal is a striding, allusively swing tune, Royston getting a chance to cut loose and set off an unexpectedly menacing coda. The band waltz emphatically through Going On Well and its anthemic, latin-tinged changes. The final cut is an expansive, vampy, summery soul tune, Don’t Despair. It’s a heartwarming way to end this.

June 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mingus Band Bassist Boris Kozlov Pushes the Envelope on His New Album

We are in the midst of what will hopefully become a deluge of recordings from people who are completely blissed out to be making them again. Bassist Boris Kozlov, one of the brain trust behind the Mingus Big Band, is one of those artists. His latest album First Things First is streaming at Bandcamp. “To say that it felt like a breath of fresh air after not being able to breathe is probably right on the money,” he recalls, after spending four marathon days in the studio last fall as both a bandleader and sideman.

Not only has the Mingus group returned to a weekly 7 PM Monday residency – moved to the Django after years at the late, lamented Jazz Standard – but Kozlov is also, predictably, a big part of the celebration of the Mingus centennial there this month. On the 14th at 7 PM, he’s playing with his longtime Mingus bandmate, pianist David Kikoski in a trio with Ari Hoenig on drums. Cover is $25

Kozlov is a thoughtful player: his new record reveals a much more eclectic sensibility than you might expect from someone associated with Mingus’ dark traditionalism. The band open with Page One, shifting from a tantalizingly lyrical ballad intro to a hard-hitting attack on Donny McCasliu’s catchy, funky Stevie Wonder-like tune. Pianist Art Hirahara drives the intensity upward to an understated, slithery Kozlov solo before the saxophonist takes it out with an irrepressible bounce.

McCaslin switches to alto flute and Kozlov to electric bass for Flow, a balmy tropical tableau livened with Behn Gillece’s twinkling vibraphone, drummer Rudy Royston providing a tiptoeing latin rhythm. The More Things Change, a Hirahara tune, has an avuncular, wryly retro cheer, with expressive tenor sax, vibes and piano solos

In the album liner notes, Kozlov recalls the time when Charlie Parker called up Stravinsky, put The Rite of Spring on the turntable and jammed out, to the composer’s amazement. I.S. Adventure is an expansive exploration of that concept, a rapidfire swing number based on one of those Stravinsky riffs, Gillece holding tight to the center as Royston takes a characteristically colorful charge.

Aftermath begins as an unsettled ballad, then the band make their way up to a big McCaslin payoff: after all we’ve been through, they seem to say, we’ve earned this. Kozlov goes electric again in Second Line Sally, a shuffling McCaslin tune reinvented with Hirahara on organ, the saxophonist contributing his most acerbic solo of many here

Kozlov bows a murky drone as the group rise from the tarpit while McCaslin plays scout in Viscous, a bitingly magical improvisational moment. Royston and then Kozlov fuel a determined swing as Gillece and Hirahara build a rainstorm around them. The group shift between a similarly edgy, unsettled ambience and an insistently funky drive in Mind Palace, a Gillece tune with some deliciously acidic McCaslin chromatics and a phantasmagorically enveloping vibraphone solo..

Kozlov’s tersely modal bass leads the group slowly toward a more summery, casually swinging ambience in Warm Sand, McCaslin slaying in both animated and reflective moments. Kozlov’s Russian accordionist uncle, the inspiration for Once a Fog in Babylon, seems to have been a big fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis: this swirly art-rock organ tune is an unexpected but spot-on diversion. The closing number, Eclipse, a mysterious, overtone-laced miniature, makes a good segue. This is not an album to multitask to: these guys caught a lot of magic in this bottle.

April 12, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never Mess With a Great Jazz Trumpeter: They Always Get Even in the End

When trumpeter Pete Rodriguez put out his sizzling 2013 album Caminando Con Papi, it seemed a little strange at the time that he would be based in Texas. He grew up as part of the Nuyorican musical intelligentsia. His father was Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez – one of the most individualistic and powerful crooners of the golden age of salsa – and his godfather is Johnny Pacheco. By the time he was in sixth grade, he was in his dad’s band.

How did the scion of such a storied New York musical legacy end up in Texas? He’d taken his family there to escape being racially profiled here. And he’d taken a college teaching job in Austin. Unfortunately, the erudite New Yorker found himself a fish out of water. Tensions rose, and as he tells it on his new album Obstacles – streaming at Sunnyside Records – he was forced out of a job. Long story short: never mess with a composer. They always get even in the end.

And revenge is really sweet here. This record is somewhat more dynamically paced than the nonstop visceral thrills of his last album. The quintet here is as formidable as the bandleader, who’s joined by John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Luis Perdomo on acoustic and electric piano, Ricardo Rodriguez on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

They open with a brisk burner titled 50 – Rodriguez hit the big five-zero running and doesn’t show his age, through this sprint based on Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice. Gone in the blink of an eye? Rodriguez isn’t going out like that, matched by Ellis and Perdomo’s scampering precision.

Rodriguez’s moody vulnerability on the first part of Abraham, a diptych, is chilling, a somber, gospel-infused horn interweave growing over Royston’s stormy clusters. Then Perdomo switches to twinkly Rhodes, although it’s a long time before the pall finally lifts.

El Proceso begins as a soulful, swaying ballad, Rodriguez choosing his spots with a spring-loaded intensity as Perdomo and Royston fuel the upward drive to Ellis’ cheery soprano spirals and a mighty, flurrying coda. Academic Backstabbing 101 is a straight-up dis at a nemesis who believed that Chuck Wayne’s Solar is the toughest piece in jazz; Perdomo and the rest of the band make short work of some similarly trickily syncopated changes and Messiaenic tonalities.

There’s a distantly Monkish, wary sensibility to the low-key simmer of the racewalking Mi Ritmo and the dichotomy of darkly circling bass against percolating sax and piano. Triple Positive has a fond 70s soul influence beneath the syncopation, a tenderly spirited remembrance of someone whose courage never faltered throughout what turned out to be a fatal illness.

Austin & Alley is a briskly vivid vignette of children at play, set to the soberingly phantasmagorical backdrop of encroaching racism. The Clifford Brown version of Gigi Gryce’s Minority inspires the album’s steadily pouncing and swinging title track, the bandleader cutting loose and setting up Ellis’ terse, calm solo as the rhythm section scramble behind him, Perdomo’s brightly romping solo backing away for Royston’s rumbling coda. The band go back to soul-drenched ballad territory for Someone Else, slowly rising around Perdomo’s lingering, summery Rhodes.

The album’s last two cuts are disses. Mary Dick Ellen is a brief, eerily chattering depiction of workplace racism. The hard-charging swing tune FU John begins on a similar note. The sarcasm is priceless, especially when Perdomo gets involved, and way too good to give away. Rodriguez, meanwhile, rises above, unperturbed and carefree. The karmic message here seems to be that ultimately, it set Rodriguez free.

August 10, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Provocatively Philosophical, Deeply Articulate New Album From Alexa Tarantino

Alexa Tarantino’s new album Firefly – streaming at Bandcamp – could be interpreted as a protest jazz record. It came together during the lockdown, and the tech oligarchs’ relentless quest to destroy the arts and reduce all surviving humanity to cogs in a soulless machine has without a doubt impacted much of the material on it.

But it’s more of a philosophical than political statement, and ultimately an optimistic one. In her liner notes, Tarantino provides context to the album’s central suite, A Moment in Time: “It’s a raw and personal snapshot of a day in a creative’s life, and the responsibilities that come with this lifestyle which, to most of society, appears ethereal, idyllic, novel, and curious. Today’s fast-paced world of technology and instant gratification has centered the human priority on money, material items, flashy success, and social media following. Essentially, it’s ‘How can I get, produce, or be the next best thing, right now?’ While we’ve seen how this has skyrocketed us forward in the realms of technology and science, it has undoubtedly impacted human thought, attention, and connection, forever.”

Tarantino obviously has her eye on the sinister implications. It begins with Daybreak, a moody latin soul groove anchored by drummer Rudy Royston’s spare, loose-limbed boom and bassist Boris Kozlov’s lithe pulse, pianist Art Hirahara and vibraphonist Behn Gillece providing a spare gleam behind Tarantino’s airy, wary alto sax. Essentially, it’s the cradle of the day’s artistic inspiration.

Tarantino switches to alto flute for Surge Fughetta, a warmly baroque-tinged miniature by Kozlov. She goes back to sax and chooses her spots to soar and spiral in Surge Capacity, a bustling, anthemic, purist minor-key romp that explores the magic moment when creative inspiration strikes, with briskly prowling solos by Hirahara and Royston. Then she picks up the alto flute again for Le Donna Nel Giardino, a balmy, verdantly swaying portrait of a playful female garden spirit, Hirahara’s sparse, allusive lines offering subtle contrast to the calm cheer overhead.

Next is Rootless Ruthlessness, a gritty, tightly clustering picture of inner turmoil, self-doubt and self-sabotage, and the struggle for an artist to get their inner critic to shut up. Hirahara switches to Rhodes as Royston charges onward, the bandleader leading a morose, tormented descent where everything falls apart before pulling it back to a triumphant drive out.

She takes a break from the suite with an unhurried, expansive take of Wayne Shorter’s Lady Day, Kozlov bowing a soulful solo to echo Tarantino’s expressiveness. The suite returns as she switches to soprano for Violet Sky, a seaside sunset bossa groove with some very cleverly orchestrated echoes between Hirahara’s Rhodes and Gillece’s vibes, Royston adding the occasional wry flicker or turnaround.

The finale, The Firefly Code challenges us to find our souls amidst this awful mess, basically. Tarantino articulates her thought: “Our individual lights perhaps are not shining as bright as they were a year ago. But the bottom line is that we shine brighter together than we do apart. We, especially artists and creatives, are resilient. My hope is that after a time of ‘darkness,’ we as a society will re-emerge brighter than ever – with a renewed appreciation for the little things – an extended embrace with someone we love, the sound of the birds chirping while sipping our morning latte, or the way that staring at a painting, listening to a composition, or reading a poem makes us pause, think, and feel…in a way that no amount of Instagram likes or followers ever could.”

She opens it on alto flute, the band shifting from a brooding, allusively Ellingtonian sway to more of a bounce as she picks up steam and spins around, matched by Gillece’s pirouetting solo. Royston’s emphatic drum break signals a very unsettled return: the choice is up to us, Tarantino seems to say.

There’s more: the suite doesn’t begin until five tracks in. To kick off the album, we get Spider’s Dance, a low-key, catchy Hirahara tune meant to illustrate an arachnid mating ritual: in this particular universe, these creatures are more romantic than sinister.

Tarantino’s alto flute wafts purposefully but enigmatically in Mindful Moments, a clave tune by by Gillece where Royston has all kinds of subtle fun with on his rims and toms.

Move of the Spirit, an acerbically upbeat Royston swing anthem has a deviously amusing Tarantino quote and rippling solos from Gillece and Hirahara. A second Shorter number, Iris is a long platform for a thoughtfully constructed alto sax solo. This is one of the best and most important jazz albums of the year.

May 17, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Eclectically Swinging Album From Saxophonist Alexa Tarantino

“As memorable as all these tunes are, it’s a good bet Tarantino has even more up her sleeve,” this blog enthused about saxophonist Alexa Tarantino‘s debut album as a bandleader, Winds of Change, just over a year ago. It’s always validating to see that kind of prediction come true. Tarantino’s follow-up, Clarity, is just out and streaming at Spotify. The lineup is a little different this time, pianist Christian Sands switched out for Steven Feifke, with Joe Martin and Rudy Royston returning on bass and drums respectively.

Interestingly, Tarantino plays alto flute on the brooding opening number, Through, working variations on a morosely memorable three-chord riff. Feifke signals a break in the clouds, the loose-limbed rhythm section pushing them pretty much out of the picture. What an anthem for our time – let’s hope Tarantino’s ending is an omen.

A Race Against Yourself comes across as something of an even brisker variation – a long, triumphant coda, essentially, Tarantino on alto sax. She gets balmy on the summery clave ballad, Luis Demetrio ‘s La Puerta, followed by A Unified Front, which has a similarly cheery drive, but at a faster pace. Royston getsthe chance to be his usual extrovert self, Feifke indulging in some blues.

The pianist plays spare, echoey upper-register Rhodes on a funky take of Horace Silver’s Gregory Is Here, Tarantino working her way up to some breathtaking, rapidfire volleys. Karma, a Feifke composition, has bright, incisive hooks, bits and pieces of funk and a smoldering Royston rumble at the end.

The lingering Rhodes returns in Who Saelua’s Breaking Cycles, the band edging their way into moody bossa territory: a real piano playing those same spare lines would enhance the song’s underlying disquiet. Thank You For Your Silence is a briskly swinging golden age-style postbop song without words. Like a lot of Tarantino’s work, this tune has an edge: a revenge number, maybe?

She closes the album, returning to alto flute for a slowly swaying, low-key reinvention of Kurt Weill’s My Ship. Martin’s piano voicings on the intro are a cool touch, as is his judiciously dancing solo midway through.

August 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeously Spare, Intimate New Trio Album From This Era’s Foremost Jazz Guitarist

The last time this blog was in the house at a Bill Frisell show, it was at the end of August, 2018. The iconic guitarist played that gig solo, seated in the front window of the Russ and Daughters cafe on Orchard Street. The only way to get in right before the show started was by sneaking  around the back. As you would expect, the place was so crowded that it was pretty much impossible for everybody but those in the very front to actually watch.

Frisell sized up the space and built a sonic cocoon, full of lingering poignancy and bittersweet rusticity, using his loop pedal sparingly as he built multitracks and then played over them during the set’s most hypnotic and intricate interludes. He delivers that same kind of intimate ambience on his latest album, Valentine, streaming at Spotify. Considering how prolific Frisell has been lately, it’s something of a surprise that this is his first album with his current all-star trio, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston.

As usual, the material is a mix of Frisell originals and covers. He opens by reinventing Malian guitar legend Boubacar Traore’s Baba Drame as a spare, slinky blues, Morgan artfully works his way outward from starkness and then back as Royston hypnotically rides the traps, the bandleader switching up textures to loopy twinkle and then a fade down into the first of his own tunes, the atmospheric Hour Glass.

The title track is a playfully cuisinarted, strolling blues as Big Lazy (or Tal Farlow) might have done in a lighthearted moment: it gets funnier the more spare the playing becomes. The rhythm section supply the atmospherics in Levees as the bandleader evokes a hazy but restless Mississippi delta of the mind.

He sticks with a slow tremolo for the spacious, distantly haunting, chilly Winter Always Turns to Spring, Morgan a steady reminder, Royston a more ghostly presence. Keep Your Eyes Open, a somewhat wry front porch folk-tinged song without words, has some of the rhythm section’s most subtly colorful work here.

The trio strip Billy Strayhorn’s A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing to simplest, most strikingly direct terms, Morgan as spare as the bandleader, Royston contributing a skeleton of a shuffle on his snare. They go back toward the delta in Electricity: Morgan’s intricately interwoven harmonies are a clinic in imagination and good taste.

Likewise, the bassist can’t resist cowboy voicings as Frisell adds southern soul and resonant reverb riffage to Wagon Wheels, an early 30s western swing tune. He goes back to enigmatic blues tuning, shadowed by the bass and drums, in Aunt Mary, sparkling with judicious overdubs.

The trio wind up the record with a socially conscious triptych, first slowly coalescing into a reflective take of the Burt Bacharach hit What the World Needs Now Is Love. Frisell switches to acoustic for his own warmly matter-of-fact, pastoral Where Do We Go. The trio close with a 6/8 soul version of a Frisell favorite, We Shall Overcome. He’s made much darker and more intense albums than this, but none more entrancing. This isn’t big news, but you’ll see this on the best records of the year list in December, Lots of big changes coming in the months between – let’s hope we get there without everybody taking the needle of death. 

August 16, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Searing, Classic Blues Record by JD Allen

You don’t typically expect a blues album to be tenor sax, bass and drums. Nor, in 2016, would anyone have expected JD Allen, this era’s most individualistic titan of the jazz tenor, to make a blues record. Yet he did – and his Americana album (streaming at Spotify) remains one of his two or three best releases, right up there with 2008’s game-changing I Am I Am, which signaled that Allen would go on a roll that he remains on to this day. He’s playing Smalls tonight, Dec 9 at 10:30 PM, leading a quartet: it’s rainy, it’s professional night and an ideal circumstance to catch his relentless, restless modal power. Cover is $25. If you feel like making a night of it, drummer Dan Pugach‘s imaginatively arranged nonet open the evening at 7:30.

Allen opens the album with the slowly ambling Tell the Truth Shame the Devil, playing sparely, spaciously, with a restrained optimism, matched by drummer Rudy Royston’s judicious, minimalist counteraccents and bassist Gregg August’s similarly spare, walking lines and occasional devious harmony. In the album liner notes, Allen asserts with his usual acerbity that traditional African-American blues is hardly limited to the blues scale and the hallowed 1-4-5 progression, although in this cas that’s mostly what this tune is about, the bandleader waiting until the last verse before really pushing the edges.

The first of the album’s two covers, the classic Another Man Done Gone has August bowing stern, stygian responses to Allen’s brooding, characteristically modally-tinged lines as Royston prowls and tumbles: it perfectly capsulizes the interplay this band enjoyed over the course of a long run that lasted more than a decade. Likewise, August’s anguished, cello-like phrasing captures the horror of the song’s narrative, an innocent man kidnapped into the prison-industrial complex.

Allen solos judiciously and somberly over August’s terse, incisive vamp and Royston’s similarly restrained, tumbling drums throughout the third track, Cotton, up to a catchy, anthemic turnaround and finally a lusciously crescendoing coda fueled by Royston. August’s simmering chords drive an ominous Middle Eastern-flavored vamp in Sugar Free to a suspiciously blithe swing and a jaunty, New Orleans-spiced bass solo until Allen brings it all back home.

Bigger Thomas is one of those wickedly incisive, catchy “jukebox jazz” tunes that Allen started firing off one after another about a dozen years ago: as it shuffles along, he brings in the gritty modalities again. Opening with August’s slow, spacious six-chord theme, the album’s title track could be Jimi Hendrix without the distortion and the noisy effects, maybe a psychedelic interlude from Axis: Bold As Love.

Over a boomy, loose-limbed shuffle groove, Allen teases that he might leave the brooding passing tones of Lightnin’ behind, but he doesn’t. There’s a little Howlin’ Wolf in there along with some venomously funny interplay with the rhythm section. The album’s second cover, Bill McHenry’s If You’re Lonely, Then You’re Not Alone, gets a spacious, wistful treatment: beyond August’s brilliantly distilled bassline, most people would be hard-pressed to call this blues. The trio close with Lillie Mae Jones, an upbeat variation on a favorite, enigmatic modal riff that Allen uses a lot: imagine if Booker T. Jones’ axe was sax instead of organ.

Whether you consider this blues or jazz, this defiantly unsettled, frequently angry salute to a treasured but misunderstood American tradition remains one of the best albums of the decade. Although Allen has recently moved on to a new trio, and some surprisingly more trad gigs as a sideman with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and other big names, this more than any other recent release captures him at his dark, majestic best.

December 9, 2019 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Simmering Comeback From This Era’s Most Potent Tenor Saxophonist

Although tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions gravitate toward concise, often slashing melodies, there’s just as much majesty and gravitas in his music. Often that ache and struggle and anger reaches Shostakovian proportions. Over the course of thirteen albums as a bandleader, Allen has concretized an intense, uncompromising style that draws heavily on bristling chromatics and every facet of the blues, from his breakout 2008 album I Am I Am, through his savagely insightful, blues-steeped Americana collection from 2016. His last couple of records have been a more improvisational quintet release with guitarist Liberty Ellman, and a collection of standards. And they have their moments, but his latest one, Barracoon – streaming at Spotify – is a return to form, a protest jazz collection initially inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It’s a more expansive take on the signature, three-minute “jukebox jazz” sonata-style records Allen started putting out a decade ago; the rage is more restrained, more veiled, but it’s still there.

Allen has a brand-new trio this time. Both bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacioppo stick close to the roles that Gregg August and Rudy Royston held in Allen’s previous trio for the better part of a decade, although Kenselaar doesn’t dive as frequently into the pitchblende depths August would descend to, and Cacioppo’s rhythms here are closer to traditional New Orleans shuffle grooves.

Cacioppo punches out one of those second-line rhythms and expands a bit from there as Kenselaar slams his strings for darkly woody resonance, Allen blipping and dancing with a bluesy ebullience throughout the album’s title cut. The second track, G sus (that’s an insider musician joke) begins with Allen’s sparse, saturnine phrases and similarly sparse chords from Kenselaar (on electric bass this time) over scrambling drums, the bandleader picking up steam judiciously.

The Goldilocks Zone is a classic, catchy, suspiciously blithe Allen jukebox jazz number, with more than a few echoes of peak-era Sonny Rollins and an understated polyrhythmic interweave between the trio. In The Immortal (H. Lacks), Allen shifts back and forth between balmy resonance and acerbically wary lines as Cacioppo tumbles gracefully and Kenselaar – on electric again – shifts between stark chords and incisively trebly riffage, shadowing the bandleader,

The album’s fifth track, 13, shuffles along, catchy yet enigmatic, although both Allen and Kenselaar brighten as they move closer to a Veracruz-tinged bounce. Allen’s gravelly, darkly bluesy pulses grow more animated as the drums get busy in Beyond the Goldilocks Zone: titles really set the tone here.

Kenselaar’s anthemically dancing bass over shuffling drums opens Communion, Allen weaving his way through the methodical eighth notes of an unexpectedly triumphant song without words. EYE Scream is a longscale take on Allen’s I Am I Am modal brushfires, a plucky bass solo giving way to straightforwardly uneasy one from the bandleader

The album’s coda, and darkest track, is Ursa Major, Kenselaar returning incisively to electric, Allen shifting deftly between major and minor, Cacioppo exercising some welcome restraint. The trio close with the lone cover here, When You Wish Upon a Star, which despite all the fun the band have with it (Cacioppo’s cymbals are hilarious) seems tacked on. Where does this album fall in the Allen pantheon? Definitely in the top five, and that includes the killer Tarbaby record with Oliver Lake and Orrin Evans.

Now where is the album release show for this masterpiece taking place? The Vanguard? Jazz at Lincoln Center? Not yet. The trio will be warming up for much bigger stages when they play on July 26 at 8 PM at Bar Bayeux at1066 Nostrand Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The show is free; take the 2 to Sterling St.

June 19, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lyrical Saxophonist Alexa Tarantino Releases Her Debut Album at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino is highly sought after in the New York jazz scene for her high-voltage, expressive sound. But she’s also found the time to do some writing over the last few years, which is where her debut album Winds Of Change – streaming at Posi-Tone Records– comes in. The lineup on the record is killer: Christian Sands on piano, Nick Finzer on trombone, Joe Martin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. She’s playing the album release show on May 28 at 7:30 PM at Dizzy’s Club,; cover is steep, $35, but if you can afford it, you’re in for a treat.

Sands’ Debussy-esque poitillisms and a graceful whoosh or three from Royston’s cymbals open the album’s concise first track, Wisp After Wisp. Tarantino play airily and spaciously as she builds to a catchy, allusively bluesy crescendo. Face Value is a briskly shuffling romp, Royston’s firing off his signature, counterintuitive accents, the bandleader jousting playfully with Sands, Finzer adding a coyly jovial solo.

She plays bright, alternately soaring and gritty soprano on Noriko Ueda’s catchy jazz waltz Seesaw, a feature for Tarantino in the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra. Breeze follows an easygoing, vintage 40s sentimental swing tangent up to a hard-charging, blues-infused Sands solo.

Switching to alto flute, Tarantino’s take of Jobim’s Zingaro begins even breezier before Sands brings in the gravitas, Martin pulsing tersely over Royston’s quasi-bolero groove which they slowly edge into amiably dancing territory. Square One, her first-ever composition, is the album’s most epic track, built around a serisio, latin-tinged riff. Royston’s cleverly flickering shuffle underpins Sands’ steadily rising explorations, Tarantino alternating between serenity and shivery flash

The album’s catchiest track among many, Calm is a wistful song without words, Finzer parsing the melody gingerly, Tarantino taking flight as the group shift toward funk behind her. Undercurrent, centered around a bassline that’s more of a horn line, could be an Eric Dolphy jukebox jazz hit, Sands’ jaunty, New Orleans-tinged solo over Royston’s endless series of unexpected jabs.

The group burn through Ready or Not, Finzer ripsnorting and Tarantino spiraling over a tight but subtly shapeshifting, rapidfire shuffle. Tarantino and Sands open the closing ballad, Without as a duo, tenderly, her spacious, hopeful resonance over wary piano and an expansive groove. As memorable as all these tunes are, it’s a good bet Tarantino has even more up her sleeve.

May 20, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JD Allen Reinvents Boudoir Jazz

There used to be a NPR clip of Betty Carter playing a New Year’s Eve show where in one of the night’s closing swing ballads, a young JD Allen took a solo that was absolutely perfect for what it was: wee-hour contented bliss. Many years later, one suspects that’s not what jazz fans are counting on from him. If anybody has that clip or knows where it is, holler back: it’s relevant to this discussion.

For the last ten years or so, Allen has been the Mingus of the tenor sax, this era’s most darkly tuneful, ferociously relevant and often witheringly intense player, composer and bandleader on that instrument. Over the past couple of years, he’s deviated from his often searing, modally-infused three-minute “jukebox jazz” to embrace the blues in all its many forms, with his savagely terse 2016 release Americana. Then he completely flipped the script with his 2017 quartet album Radio Flyer, a far more expansive and improvisational excursion, adding guitarist Liberty Ellman to his long-running rhythm section of bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. This time out, Allen has flipped the script yet again with Love Stone (streaming at Spotify), a cover album of ballad standards that bring to mind that mysterious, contentedly celebratory NPR moment but hardly settle for replicating it. He and the quartet are playing the release show on June 18 at Nublu 151, with sets at 8 and 10 PM. Cover is $15.

While some of these numbers are pretty standard Netflix-and-chill, a lot of them aren’t. Many of them are among the starkest and most spacious Allen’s ever done. “Playing the melody while knowing the lyrics is like drinking champagne and laughing at yourself all night long,” Allen asserts in the coy love note in the cd booklet. He also shares specific lines culled from those lyrics as a guide to where he’s going musically.

For starters, he and the group don’t reinvent Stranger in Paradise as much as they take it out of a straitjacket, substituting a gently and loosely syncopated, thoughtful if not exactly carefree sway, Ellman’s lingering chords first foreshadowing and then switching roles with Allen’s smoky, wafting phrases. Harry Allen (no relation) is more of a comparison than you would ever think, knowing this bandleader’s back catalog.

The take of Until the Real Thing Comes Along is closer to that other Mr. Allen with a similarly oldschool swing guy like Ed Cherry on guitar, the rhythm section a sotto-voce, slinky presence. Royston, playing with greater subtlety than he’s ever been called to do on album, goes to that same well again with August in Why Was I Born. Likewise, Allen’s melismatic tendrils curlicue and entwine, introducing what’s probably been the most spacious, Barney Kessel-ish solo Ellman’s ever recorded,

Fueled by Allen’s almost grimly acidic highs, “You give me chills” is the not-so-subtext for the quartet’s skeletal take of You’re My Thrill: August’s easygoing but spring-loaded chords over Royston’s misterioso brushwork make for one of the album’s most rapturous moments. The remake of the old folk ballad Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies has a distant, rivetingly Frisellian bittersweetness – it’s the closest thing to an original here and the best song on the album.

Likewise, while Put on a Happy Face has a muted swing, Allen’s occasional flicker of a microtone or sinuous cluster offers split-second context, a place in a much bigger picture. Prisoner of Love is anything but a prisoner’s tale – with a focus that’s both prayerful and gimlet-eyed, Allen and group leave no doubt where they’d like to go with it…and suddenly Allen throws the blinds open and the sun streams in.

True to the lyric, Allen brings more than a hint of his signature defiance to Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You). The album comes full circle with the subtly shifting metrics of Gone with the Wind. The most trad thing about it is how it’s used: it’s best appreciated (and most useful, believe it) with a snifter of bourbon and your dearest one close by. If your dearest one has enough lust for life to go out on a Monday night, Allen’s album release show could be your best date of the year.

June 16, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment