Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Sarah Manning – Dandelion Clock

Count this as the best jazz album of this young decade – give it another ten years and it could be one of the best jazz albums of an old decade. Not only is Sarah Manning a fearless and intense player, she’s a fearless and intense composer, shades of another first-class alto saxophonist, Kenny Garrett. Restless, irrepressible, unafraid and unfailingly terse, much of what she does here is transcendent. Like Garrett, she likes a stinging chromatic edge, often taking on a potently modal, Middle Eastern tinge. Like JD Allen, she doesn’t waste notes: she doesn’t waste time making her point and the result reverberates, sometimes because she likes to hit the hook again and again, sometimes because her punches delivers so much wallop. There are plenty of other influences on her new cd Dandelion Clock (Coltrane, obviously), but her voice is uniquely hers. An obviously inspired supporting cast of Art Hirahara on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Kyle Struve on drums do more than just support, they seize the moment as you do when you get the chance to play songs like this. The tracks are originals bookended by a couple of covers (isn’t that what cover are for, anyway?).

The most Coltrane-esque composition, both melodically and architecturally, here is the dark, bracing ballad Marble, Manning’s circular hook giving way to Hirahara’s thoughtfully slinking piano that builds to an insistent staccato crescendo. Oh’s solo follows with similarly relentless insistence as piano and drums prowl around behind her. The title track contemplates the concept of time as children see it – it’s not finite. The song is pensive and uneasy, as if to say that Manning knows something the kids don’t and this is her rather oblique way of telling them. Bernard Herrmann-esque piano builds expansively to a tense rhythm that ticks like a bomb, Manning emerging off-center, circling her way down to a simple but brutally effective crescendo and an ominous diminuendo from there. Crossing, Waiting is an even more potently intense exercise in how to build tension, beginning with Oh’s marvelously laconic, pointed solo, Manning eventually adding raw little phraselets over Struve’s equally incisive rattle. The high point of the album is The Owls Are on the March, something of an epic. Hirahara’s haunted-attic righthand is the icing on Manning’s plaintively circling phrases. The way she builds and finally sails her way out of an expansive Hirahara solo, turns on a dime and finally brings up the lights, then winds them down mournfully again is one of the most exquisite moments on any jazz album in the last few years.

There’s also the aptly titled Phoenix Song, Manning’s easygoing congeniality a bright contrast with the brooding band arrangement until she goes otherworldly with them at the end; the equally otherworldly tone poem Through the Keyhole and the after-dark scenario Habersham St. The two covers are strikingly original, a defiantly unsettling post-bop interpretation of Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, and Michel Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind, taken with a murky tango feel to the back streets of Paris – prime Piaf territory – and then out to Toulouse. Manning is somebody to get to know now – the album’s just out on Posi-Tone.

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May 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jazz Sax Player Brendan Romaneck’s Auspicious Compositions Memorialized in a Superb New Album

This is the saddest way jazz legends are born. At age 24, sax player Brendan Romaneck was just about to record his first full-length album. Impressively, he’d put together a first-class band including powerhouse trumpeter Terrell Stafford. Tragically, before recording could begin, Romaneck was cut down in an accident. Four years after the composer’s untimely demise, several of the musicians he’d originally assembled came together to record some of his tunes along with a sensitive collection of covers. Without any context, this is a good jazz album; it’s also a reminder of what the world lost in April, 2005. Romaneck’s compositions  are ablaze with life, color and clever rhythms: he was clearly an artist with talent and passion that could have gone much further than what he left behind. What’s here offers more than a glimmer of greatness.

The songs her feature either Chris Potter or Steve Wilson on sax, Romaneck’s teacher and mentor Keith Javors on piano, Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn and a rhythm section of Delbert Felix on bass and John Davis on drums. Impressively, the originals are the strongest suit. Romaneck obviously listened widely, as evidenced by Dream Behind the Winter, sounding like Donald Fagen gone latin, busy, bustling Javors piano trading off against balmy Potter tenor in a confidently ambitious arrangement. 3 Steps Ahead of the Spider is a catchy Brubeck-style jazz waltz packed with smart, out-of-the-box devices: suspenseful drums breaking up the piece early on; a leaping, agile piano chart played with gusto by Javors and some arrestingly intense, lightning-fast work by Potter.

The title track, Coming Together is a captivating exercise in circular melody with rousing turns by Wilson, Stafford and Javors, the band playfully running the central hook behind Davis when it comes his turn to step out. The catchy swing tune The Vibe runs from brightly wary Javors piano, to a recklessly allusive Wilson solo, to Felix’ jaunty bass. When the horns follow each other, a phalanx of warriors (or partiers) bounding off to wherever they’re going at the end, the arrangement is exquisite.

The best and most adventurous cut is Minion, Stafford and Wilson’s conversation evocative of what Trane and Dolphy were doing forty years previously, taking turns  maintaining a semblance of sanity while the other gets a chance to vent. At the end, there’s another deliciously blazing horn chart with more devious counterpoint. Another original echoes 70s-era Stevie Wonder, illuminated by a characteristically forceful Stafford solo.

What connection the covers had to Romaneck are not clear, but they’re  also well done. Killing Me Softly with His Song is a clinic in how to skirt a melody and make it interesting; Harold Arlen’s My Shining Hour, which kicks off the album, matches conviviality to a portentous suspense. And Nancy with the Laughing Face emphasizes the ballad’s effortlessly pretty, nocturnal vibe, a casual trio performance by Potter, Felix and Javors. Romaneck’s strength, at least as evidenced here, was not ballads – the two on the cd sound like student works and don’t have the strong, individual stamp he put on his more lively pieces. Now that we have this album, it’s time to hear Romaneck playing his own stuff. It’s a fair assumption that in this day and age, there must be at least a few recordings worthy of at least youtube and quite possibly an album of his own.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jacam Manricks – Labyrinth

As has been observed here before, the newly renascent trend of augmenting a jazz group with a string section is a particularly welcome development – let’s hope more artists discover what Miles and Gil Evans knew decades ago. On this new album, saxophonist/composer/educator Jacam Manricks is the latest to utilize the approach, very innovatively and successfully. His inspirations come from all over – it’s obvious that he’s listened widely. With a forty-piece chamber orchestra featured on several of the tracks along with an inspired quintet including Manricks on saxes and flute, Jacob Sacks (of the excellent White Rocket) on piano, Ben Monder on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, the melodies here are strong, taking on an even greater intensity with the lushness of the arrangements.

On the cd’s opening cut, Portal, Sacks improvises upper-register rivulets as Manricks’ sax builds to a buoyant crescendo, the melody a variation on a Debussy theme. Microgravity begins gently, then the strings build over a martial beat evocative of Sketches of Spain (a motif that will recur even more evocatively later on). The orchestra swirls around behind a brightly reverberating Monder solo…and then a four-note pizzicato string motif echoes an earlier Manricks riff. Eerily ambient strings and sax end it on a suspenseful note. The title track builds on stately, sparse low-register piano intervals (fourths and seconds), much in the style of what Herbie Hancock and his contemporaries were doing in the late 60s, drums following and playing off the piano beat as Manricks adds balmy color.

The fourth track, Move has a pensive, tropical feel with acoustic guitar and soprano sax, down to an expressive, somewhat tense piano solo, Manricks maintaining the downcast intensity as the rhythm grows more complex.  Cloisters, a somewhat epic number inspired by the popular uptown New York pre-Renaissance art museum/date spot and its lush, green surroundings, works around a bright, joyful theme – the bus has finally reached the end of the line, yay! With Aeronautics, the piano feels around as Manricks establishes the mood, glimmering quietly, through a Monder solo and then some of Manricks’ most poignant work here. March and Combat begins as an overt Sketches of Spain homage, its second half a pulsing Ravel Bolero-inspired chart. Aptly titled, the album’s concluding cut, Rothko is a hypnotic, static tone poem. This album is both cutting-edge and memorably tuneful – these are songs that will run through your head as you walk down the street. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment