Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jazz Passengers Are Excited to Be Reunited, No Joke

The Jazz Passengers’ new album Reunited – their first in over ten years – is as nonchalantly cool as anything they’ve ever released. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson’s cinematic compositions are as imagistic as ever, imbued with his signature wit, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes every bit the vintage soul crooner, both on the horn and the mic and vibraphonist Bill Ware his understatedly counterintuitive self. Violinist Sam Bardfeld, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez and guitarist Marc Ribot channel their signature out-of-the-box arrangements, melodic pulse, slinky latin groove, and eclecticism, respectively. Much of this has an early 70s psychedelic feel, from the brief period where soul music, funk and jazz got to mingle unmolested before fusion came along and busted up the party.

Elvis Costello sings the opening track, Wind Walked By, a casually strolling noir-tinged New Depression era swing tune: “Shit out of luck, the American way.” Ware’s vibes eerily anchor Nathanson’s alto sax, Ribot’s guitar supplying a distant unease, swaying from nonchalant blues to off-center skronk on the outro. Seven, an instrumental works a hypnotic circular motif like an early 70s Herbie Hancock soundtrack number, Fowlkes and Ribot’s wah guitar building suspense up to a violin/guitar swirl. Fowlkes sings Button Up, a matter-of-fact soul/jazz groove, wah guitar mingling with Ware’s expansive, deadpan, bluesy cascades. Thom Yorke’s The National Anthem trades midnight Heathrow airport corridor atmosphere for 4 AM Ninth Avenue Manhattan drama – with Ribot and then Bardfeld skronking and screeching behind the aplomb of the rest of the crew, it’s every bit as menacing as the original. The best single song on the album might be Tell Me (by Fowlkes/Nathanson, not the Glimmer Twins), dark latin soul morphing into a buoyant 6/8 ballad, the warmth of the trombone silhouetted against the plinking thicket where Ware and Bardfeld are hiding out.

They redo Spanish Harlem as laid-back organ-driven swing with an amusing Spanglish skit, Ware, Fowlkes and Rodriguez joined by a whole different crew including Russ Johnson on trumpet, Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola and Susi Hyldgaard on vocals. There are also two bonus live tracks with longtime collaborator Deborah Harry. Think of Me, a Brad Jones/David Cale composition is lusciously restrained Twin Peaks swing. And who would have thought that she’d sing this 1995 concert version of One Way or Another (redone here brilliantly as Brat Pack-era suite) better than the original – or for that matter that she’d be an even more captivating singer in 2010, as recent Blondie tours have triumphantly shown. The only miss on the album is Reunited (the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop monstrosity), which pulls plenty of laughs in concert but misses the mark here: garbage in, garbage out. You could call this cd the comeback of the year except that there’s nothing really for them to come back from other than a long absence – which is happily over now. Last month’s shows at the Jazz Standard saw them clearly psyched to be back in action again; hopefully there’ll be more of it.

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

Concert Review: The Komeda Project at the Polish/Slavic Center, Brooklyn NY 4/8/10

Polish jazz composer/pianist Krzysztof Komeda is best remembered for the score to Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski would use his music in several films) and the 1965 cult classic album Astigmatic. The Komeda Project dedicate themselves to keeping his music alive; their Requiem album was simply one of the best albums in any genre released last year. Thursday night at the spacious converted church housing the Polish/Slavic Center in Greenpoint, the Komeda Project – this particular version featuring pianist Andrzej Winnicki, sax player Krzysztof Medyna, trumpeter Russ Johnson and an inspired, absolutely spot-on pickup rhythm section of Drew Gress on bass and Rudy Royston on drums – played a show that was as hauntingly nuanced as the album.

Komeda’s most obvious influence was vintage, small-combo Miles Davis, and Winnicki did an evocatively plaintive evocation of Wynton Kelly with his subtle shades of grey. Not all of Komeda’s work is anguished and haunting, but that mood dominated throughout the group’s hourlong set. Winnicki deftly let the composer’s brooding, stygian chordal intensity speak for itself, fueling the smoldering pyre that was the long partita Day-Time, Nighttime Requiem. Relentless and energetic, Medyna fired off one blazing flurry after another, arpeggios and caterpillaring clusters around Komeda’s many moody modal centers; Johnson got as many plum assignments as the piano and made the most of them with a tone that wandered from full-out mournful to watchful and wary. Gress got all of one solo passage all night but made the most of it, tersely yet animatedly. From the first few rumbles on the toms, it was going to be interesting to see how Royston, one of the most powerful and intense drummers on the planet, was going to handle it, but he felt the room – the rumble never reached the usual roar that he can so memorably deliver in situations that allow it. Instead, he and Gress would bounce around the occasional riff once or twice when there was room to squeeze one in, notably during a pulsing, spring-loaded version of one of Komeda’s hotter numbers, Crazy Girl.

Riveting as the Komeda compositions were, the most impressive moment of the show was an original by Winnicki that slyly cached some deliciously dark Balkan tonalities within a deceptively comfortable, bluesy architecture, Medyna delivering his solo on soprano sax with such fluidity that he could have been playing clarinet. It maintained the mood marvelously, a perfect if perhaps unlikely alloy of old world angst and new world indomitability.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Komeda Project – Requiem

To say that an album is as important as it is good could be interpreted many different ways – but the second release by the Komeda Project is in the best sense of the word. Pianist/composer Krzysztof Komeda is not unknown to fans of both jazz and cinema (quick to pick up on Komeda’s trademark cinematic style, Roman Polanski enlisted him to write film music for Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby). But Komeda is overdue for a revival, and fortuitously we have the Komeda Project to renew interest in a figure who is something of a doomed legend in jazz history. Komeda died in 1968 at age 37 from complications of a head injury sustained under mysterious circumstances. Medical malpractice or something even more sinister may also have played a role (the Polish communist regime, not particularly fond of western-inclined jazz musicians, is suspected by some). The Komeda Project’s first album Crazy Girl covered some of Komeda’s more accessible, straight-up compositions – “club music,” as the group puts it. This time around, group leader and pianist Andrzej Winnicki is joined by his powerhouse countryman, saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, noted New York trumpeter Russ Johnson and an American rhythm section of Scott Colley on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, working their way with equal parts care and abandon through a selection of Komeda’s darkest works. Much of this sounds like a less jarring Balkan version of Mingus, ranging from moody to outright gloomy. At its best, Komeda’s work is extraordinarily affecting – it refuses to let the listener go, and the band here does justice to the material as well as including two original compositions by Winnicki that often vividly echo Komeda.

The album opens with the three-part Night-time, Daytime Requiem, written for Coltrane. Its Trane influence isn’t felt in its haunting, almost Satie-esque piano but it is very much present in the sax chart, and Medyna attacks it with an aptly rapidfire, inspired aggression. Like much of the rest of the music here, it’s strikingly imagistic and wouldn’t be out of place in an arthouse suspense film, matching wary trills to an uneasy mid 2oth century urban bustle a la Mingus or mid-50s Miles. Ballad for Bernt, from the Knife in the Water score, is sad and beautiful with a particularly poignant Johnson solo. The aptly titled Dirge for Europe is literally a funeral march, Waits and Colley impressively taking it lento but managing to imbue it with an almost reluctant swing.

Astigmatic, which served as something of a signature song for Komeda, gets a clever, playful treatment through its Brubeck-esque opening section, grows insistent with Johnson and Medyna sailing overhead and grows to where Medyna decides to take a full-tilt run for the border with some wild, Turkish-flavored swirls and wails – it’s easily the most adrenalizing moment here. Prayer and Question is the most overtly Mingus-inflected number here, an imploring dialogue between piano and sax that grows to a lengthy, scurrying chase scene. Of the Winnicki originals here, there’s the expressive, expansive ballad Elutka, bass and drums roaming casual and free beneath somewhat rubato piano, and the cd’s concluding cut, Anubis, a pensively shape-shifting Komeda homage that does justice to its main inspiration. Overall, this is an inspired and impressive reintroduction to a great cult artist who would no doubt have transcended that category had he not been cut down before his time.

Happily, the Komeda Project plays the occasional live show as well (they’ve recently made the Cornelia Street Cafe their New York home) – check back for live dates.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Andrew Green’s Narrow Margin CD Release Show at the Cornelia St. Cafe, NYC 9/20/09

Sometimes knowing a jazz group’s latest album before seeing them play from it is a complete waste of time. This time, it was like being handed a key to the secret back room where the party is always happening. A few years ago, guitarist Andrew Green spent some time on the disabled list with a busted wrist and he put the downtime to good use: he watched a lot of vintage film noir and wrote a lot of killer horn charts. The result was the album Narrow Margin (very favorably reviewed here recently), which is more of a homage to noir jazz from the 50s than it is an attempt to completely replicate the style. It’s full of mysterious twists and turns and catchy phrases, the kind of jazz album you find yourself humming as you walk down the street. And if you’re in the shadows, and it’s 4 AM and misty way over on the west side, all the better. Sunday night Green assembled most of the supporting cast who played on the album for a magical run through most of it.

Joining Green were his albummates Russ Johnson on trumpet and JC Sanford on trombone plus Noah Preminger subbing on tenor for Bill McHenry, with an inspired rhythm section of Kermit Driscoll on bass and Mike Sarin on drums. A lot of the songs slunk along with a latin pulse, and they nailed it. Watching the songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word –  take shape was an apt reminder how cleverly and ingeniously Green composed them. Trumpet and trombone would weave and bob around each other while Green worked variations on the theme, often with a bracing tinge of natural distortion. Preminger got the chance to establish plenty of contrast against the suspense and occasional outright menace of the rest of the band and did it with a stunningly nuanced attack and an unassailable calm: as good as McHenry sounded on the cd, Preminger took it to the next level.

One of the oldest compositions, Miro, featured Driscoll working a finely honed, minimalist solo fleshed out with similar judiciousness by Green, sounding like an unconstrained, ballsier Joe Pass. Short Cut, with its wickedly catchy, four-note central riff was a clinic in the use of echo between horn players, Johnson’s trumpet perfectly evoking a blithe obliviousness as Green sputtered and threw off big dirty sparks underneath. Best song of the show was Midnight Novelette, a cinematic number if there ever was one, Green letting loose with a stinging volley of sixteenth notes after Johnson and then Sanford had built an indelibly nocturnal tableau. It was as if Bogart had been overheard at the bar, murmuring, “Play it again, guys.”

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Andrew Green – Narrow Margin

Taking its title from the 1952 Richard Fleischer noir film, this often astonishingly memorable cd was written by guitarist Andrew Green while recuperating from a broken wrist. It’s simply one of the best jazz albums of the year. Talk about putting downtime to good use! It’s both a loving homage to noir soundtrack music as well as an intriguing update on the style. This is all about tension and mystery, and in keeping with the genre, JC Sanford‘s trombone, John Hebert‘s bass and Mark Ferber‘s drums establish an ominous backdrop for Bill McHenry‘s tenor sax and Russ Johnson‘s trumpet while composer Green’s guitar plays the P.I. role, working every angle. The songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – can evoke a sense of dread, but often deviously: they’re stylized but not formulaic. As with a good noir movie, very little is as it seems.

Right from the first few notes of the opening track, .45 Auto, the scene is set: a breathless horn hook, guitar spins off it and then a vivid Johnson solo over a murky rhythm section, who, sensing they’ve been discovered, then go scurrying off. Then McHenry goes honking cheerily to a big swell with echoes of Mingus. The second track, Midnight Novelette works a sinister theme with trombone and then the full band over a latin-tinged beat with playful muted trumpet and a tasteful, incisive Joe Pass style solo by Green. Both the third and sixth tracks, Miro and Short Cut have a vintage 50s Miles Davis feel – they could be classics from that era and may someday be acknowledged as such. The first is basically a swinging four-chord song that runs its gorgeously bracing chorus three times at the end to drive its point home; the other builds from a ridiculously catchy head to a Green solo that sputters and finally goes over the edge screaming over the distorted, reverberating roar of a rhythm guitar track. McHenry assumes his frequent role as the voice of reason while Green battles with the demons on the fretboard as the band rises out of the melee.

The title track cleverly interpolates Bernard Herrmann’s theme from Taxi Driver within the framework of a contrasting, more contemplative but equally suspenseful original, reinforcing the tension of the film piece. Other tracks here – pretty much all of them are standouts – include Black Roses, a calmly inscrutable exercise in how to build intensity, the golden-age 50s style Totally Joe, with a killer solo by Green peeking around the central chords rather than totally skirting them, and the least noir of all the tracks here, the concluding cut Honeymoon in Ipswich. Yet it also evokes a shadowy atmosphere, impatient, angry guitar pitted against a bustling, circular rhythm section that eventually goes way, way down for Sanford’s blissfully oblivious trombone to add an even further unbalanced feel: something is just waiting to go dreadfully wrong here. And then it’s over. As with a great suspense film, it screams out for a sequel.

The group celebrate the album’s release with a full-band show at 8 PM on Sept 20 at the Cornelia St. Cafe. Early arrival is very highly recommended.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment