Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Concert Review: The Joshua Redman Trio at the Jazz Standard, NYC 10/21/09

Believe it or not, as of this writing (morning of Thursday, October 22), there is still limited seating available for Joshua Redman‘s series of trio shows at the Jazz Standard, which runs through the 25th. You’ll probably have more luck with a weekday or one of the Sunday night sets (7:30 and 9:30 only) – or if you’re a jazz fan and you’re in the neighborhood, you can try your luck  in the event that somebody reserved and then didn’t show up. Because this is a series of shows you should see, in a room particularly suited to such intimate, soulful performances.

It’s hard to believe that last night’s first set was Joshua Redman’s Jazz Standard debut, and he made it a memorable one. Backed by the solid, tasteful groove of Matt Penman on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Redman reminded how perfectly his sound works in this format (an all too rare setup for the sax player, even with the resounding success of his 2007 trio album Back East). They opened with a cleverly idiosyncratic, tongue-in-cheek, latinized version of “the one song you wish you’ll never hear again,” as Redman called it, Mack the Knife. Moving from an expansive, bluesy intro, the melody only took shape after a long, casually swinging buildup – was it merely a playful quote, like the others Redman had thrown in, or was it the actual song?

From there, they didn’t waste time getting to what would turn out to be the best song of the set, Ghost, from Redman’s latest cd Compass. It’s a pensively unwinding modal masterpiece, Penman unwaveringly maintaining the suspense as Redman methodically paralleled him, taking the melody deeper and deeper into darkness. Hutchinson finally took it out on an equally tense, gripping note, playing the snare with his hands for a murky, booming ambience. Their covers were also typically purist. Freddie Hubbard’s Crisis took on a defiant, early 70s feel as Redman swung out and around its catchy, chromatic four-note descending hook; Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady was a lush, romantic clinic in how to use the blues scale without ever lapsing into cliche. A breezy, slightly post-bop inflected original bore some impressive resemblance to JD Allen with Redman running scattershot within its tight, catchy architecture, Hutchinson joyously straight-ahead, feeling the room and not overdoing it when it came time for his solo. Finally, at the end of the last number, a 4/4 funk tune with a James Brown catchiness and simplicity, Redman cut loose with some oboeish chromatics – as usual, throughout the show he’d stayed within himself, never overplaying, always making his notes count, purist that he is. He’s never let the hype go to his head, still playing like one of the greats of the fifties. Take a trip back to a great place in time and see one of these shows – it may be awhile before you get a chance to see another like it.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The JD Allen Trio at Puppets Jazz Bar, Brooklyn NY 6/25/09

Seemingly a low-key warmup gig for the JD Allen Trio’s upcoming weeklong stand at the Vanguard this coming August 11-16, they were practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing together again after a break of almost a month. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions and sense of melody are so strong that he doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and he wasn’t. Allen has concretized his style: he’s exactly the same as a bandleader and composer as he is a sideman, always finding the melody, always finding the most elegant, terse way to make his point – and his songs all make one, often very vividly. This group works perfectly as a trio because there isn’t room for anybody else, the rhythm section being as ferocious as it is. Allen’s articulacy as a player matches his writing. He spent the duration of the set tossing off crystalline eighth-note runs and edgily precise, minor-key motifs loaded with implied melody while the rhythm section ran amok. Rudy Royston has to be the most exciting drummer in jazz right now (no disrespect to any of the other good ones, you know who you are, we’ll be reviewing one of you next week). Puppets is a small room, and Royston felt it, leaving the intensity  just a notch below pain level. Where Allen speaks in phrases, Royston speaks in chapters – but they’re meaningful chapters, and bassist Gregg August seemed only too glad to jump in and go along for what became a wild ride from the first few rolls across the toms. August is also a first-rate composer with an ear for a memorable narrative, which makes him a particularly good fit for Allen, but this time out it didn’t take long before he went unhinged in tandem with Royston while Allen struck a striking stance in the unlikely role as melodic leader also charged with carrying the rhythm and organizing the songs’ architecture. Backwards, no doubt, but that’s part of what made the show so fascinating to watch.

The trio mixed songs from their two brilliant albums, last year’s I Am I Am and the just-released, equally melodic Shine! On the records, most of them are brief, barely four minutes long, but the group elongated  their shadows so they almost disappeared and then spun back in a split second, looming large and ominous. I Am I Am is a theme and variations, and Allen worked its impatient, angry insistence for all it was worth, using the central hook as an anchor to keep the low-register rumble from lurching and destroying everything in its path. Royston didn’t steal the show – he was the show, introducing not one but two unexpected, instant crescendos with press rolls. He worked his snare not with a snap but a boom, at one point during a solo building a defiant nine-note phrase artfully as a horn line. August has a great feel for latin rhythms, which in tandem with Royston’s reckless yet judicious rides across the cymbal heads added luminosity to some of the growlier I Am I Am passages. At the end, they swung, August running scales madly while Royston careened through the underbrush, Allen to the side, surgically incisive – and then bringing his cohorts back up and onto the road with similar precision. If jazz is your thing, you’re out of your mind if you’re in town and you don’t catch these guys while they’re at the Vanguard this August.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Secretary Feat. Big Boss/Nina Nastasia & Jim White at Mercury Lounge, NYC 10/3/07

Secretary is Moisturizer frontwoman and baritone sax player Paula Henderson’s Hollywood soundtrack side project. Or at least that’s what it sounded like tonight, like Angelo Badalamenti covering Moisturizer. Hollywood would do well to seek her out. As she made a point of reminding the audience, everything she writes is a true story. The resulting compositions, whether the utterly unique dance-rock that she plays with Moisturizer or the quieter, more atmospheric works she played tonight, all have a narrative feel, and it’s often very compelling. Or very funny. Or both simultaneously.

 

Although for Secretary gigs she hides behind a pair of spectacles and a vintage secretary suit, Henderson didn’t bother trying to shed the slightly coy, deviously witty Moist Paula persona that she assumes at Moisturizer shows. Maybe that’s just who she really is. Big Boss is a new addition, a sharp-dressed man busily multitasking on a laptop and mixer, occasionally contributing trombone, keyboards and even turntable scratching on one song. Although Moisturizer is defined by playfulness and fun, and that sensibility isn’t lost here, the quieter, more downtempo tunes Henderson does in this project afford her a chance to explore more thoughtful, pensive terrain. Tonight she played lead lines on her bari sax as Big Boss ran the tracks, most of which are on the excellent debut Secretary album. They opened with a sultry, jazzy, unreleased number perhaps titled 37 Again, Henderson’s achingly torchy, jazzy melody playing against a dense mix of textures created by playing sax through a bunch of garageband patches and then mixing everything. Later she did the balmy, ambient South Carolina Holiday, the long, playful Mouse (which is actually about chasing a mouse around the apartment), the catchy Latin dance tune Mofongo Raincheck and a somewhat classically-inflected fanfare, live sax playing call-and-response with harmonies using several different textures. Toward the end of the set, she did a lively new number called Mushrooms with Strangers that wouldn’t be out of place at a Moisturizer show. The evening’s most amusing moment was another new one called The Perfect Boss. Henderson played repetitive, staccato riffs while the computer run a shrieking, metallic wash of noise that sounded like Suicide or something from Metal Machine Music. If that’s the perfect boss, one can only wonder what the boss from hell sounds like.

 

Nina Nastasia sold out the room. It had been ten years since she’d played here, she said, “When I was…18.”

 

“Not,” she said under her breath, barely audible. She may wield an acoustic guitar but she hardly fits the singer-songwriter mold. You’ll never hear a Nina Nastasia song in a credit card commercial. Tonight she played mostly new material from her album with Dirty Three bandleader/drummer Jim White, her only backing musician. He was amazing: no wonder everyone wants to work with him. Using a flurry of rimshots, cymbal splashes and boomy tom-tom cascades, he orchestrated her often grimly minimalistic songs with both precision and abandon. Often he’d leave Nastasia to hold the rhythm as he’d accelerate or slow down, or play deftly off the beat. There are only a few drummers in rock who are in his league, perhaps Dave Campbell of Love Camp 7/Erica Smith renown or Linda Pitmon from Smack Dab and Steve Wynn’s band.

 

In the years since she first played here, Nastasia has developed a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style on the guitar. Hearing the new songs stripped down to just the guitar and drums was a revelation: it was instantly clear where the melodies for all the layers of strings and keyboards on her albums come from. I found myself playing orchestrator, imagining violin, viola and cello parts. One of the great keyboardists of our time was in the audience and was overheard raving about how good the piano on the new album is.

 

Nastasia has also become an excellent singer. That creepy little voice she had when she put out her landmark 1999 debut, Dogs (whose title track she played tonight, to much applause) is still there when it needs to be, but in the intervening years she’s learned how to belt. And project, with an anguished wail that serves her songs, particularly the new ones, spectacularly well. Her earlier material was typically noir urban tableaux; now, she’s taking on more abstract, universal emotional territory, though her vision remains the same, as bleak, angst-driven, desperate and sometimes exasperated as it’s always been. The dark glimmer has become a gleam. If this show is any indication, the new album is a must-own.

 

The only problem tonight (one hopes uncharacteristically) was the sound. The sound guy was playing annoying, effeminate computer-disco over the PA before Secretary went on, and predictably mixed the backing tracks from the laptop louder than Henderson’s sax. Bad mistake. Then Nastasia’s guitar started to generate a lot of low feedback, perhaps because it needed to be amped high in the mix and she didn’t have one of those little rubber thingys that fits into the sound hole. Where was Freddie Katz when we needed him.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments