Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Broodingly Catchy, Lithely Orchestrated Album and a Week at the Vanguard by Pianist Edward Simon

Duke Ellington liked suites. So does Edward Simon. Likewise, the jazz icon and the Venezuelan pianist share classical roots, a genius for orchestration and a completely outside-the box sensibility. Simon’s latest album Sorrows and Triumphs – streaming at Bandcamp – reaffirms his darkly eclectic sensibility, interspersing material from two suites. The first is the broodingly orchestrated title suite, the second is his more rhythm-centered House of Numbers suite. The result is as lavishly hypnotic as it is incisive and edgy. Simon is bringing a stripped-down version of the band on the album – his Steel House trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade – to a stand at the Vanguard that runs from Jan 8 through the 13th, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 PM; cover is $35.

The album’s epic opening track, Incessant Desires begins with a misterioso rustle, chamber quartet the Imani Winds wafting over a tersely enigmatic series of hooks, alto saxophonist David Binney adding spaciously placed colors. Singer Gretchen Parlato joins them as the music rises joyously, guitarist Adam Rogers leading a pensive return downward. Darcy James Argue at his most plaintively lyrical is a strong reference point; Binney’s moody modal solo over Simon’s tense, distantly menacing glimmer as the wind ensemble circle around behind them could be the high point of the album.

The group keep the eerily dancing glimmer going with the circling counterpoint of Uninvited Thoughts, with piano that’s both carnivalesque and carnaval-esque. Once again, Binney adds judicious riffage, this time throughout a lively exchange with the wind ensemble.

The shadowy interweave between piano, guitar and Parlato’s tender yet assertive vocalese as Equanimity gets underway slowly reaches toward anthemic proportions. This time it’s Rogers who gets to take centerstage in the ongoing enigma: the sense of mystery throughout this album is pretty relentless.

With its persistently uneasy, often hypnotic piano chromatics, the winds weaving in and out, Triangle is equal parts Bernard Herrmann suspense film theme and Darcy James Argue altered blues. It’s the key to the album.

The balmiest, most atmospheric track is Chant, anchored by Rogers’ tremoloing guitar waves and Parlato’s gentle, encouraging vocals. Colley’s minimalist solo echoes Simon – and is that an organ, back in the mix, or just Rogers using a pedal?

Venezuela Unida, a shout-out to Simon’s home turf, has most of the band running a warily dancing melody together, then diverging into clever, tightly clustered polyrhythms. The sparse/ornate dichotomies and moody/ebullient contrasts as it winds up and out wouldn’t be out of place in the Maria Schneider playbook.

Triumphs is part circling indie classical, part terse latin jazz, Parlato’s misty mantras and Rogers’ wry oscillations at the center. The album’s slowly pulsing closing cut, Rebirth, is even more envelopingly stripped down. If this otherwise jauntily orchestrated masterpiece slipped under the radar for you in the past year’s deluge of albums, now’s as good a time to immerse yourself in Simon’s dark melodic splendor.

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January 4, 2019 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful

At this point in his career, jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton is entitled to do whatever he wants – which in this case means yet another great, tuneful album with a terrific band. His latest, Common Ground, assembles a set of roomy, expansive recordings with plenty of space for each individual personality. The easy chemistry here attests to Burton choosing wisely when bringing this band together. Specifically, this New Gary Burton Quartet includes Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Dating from even before his days with Larry Coryell back in the 60s, Burton has been a fan of guitar/vibraphone textures, and this album testifies to the kind of magic frequencies those instruments can create together. Lage has been riding a well-deserved wave of buzz for his latest album Gladwell, and here he plays bad cop to Burton’s melodic, often majestic lines, slashing and biting – he’s an edgy player in general, even more so here. Colley’s rock-solid runs and steps often anchor the rhythm as Sanchez gets to explore the perimeter and add all kinds of subtle shades.

The opening cut, Late Night Sunrise has an easygoing later-than-wee-hours feel, Colley’s brief, suspenseful bass a perfect lead-in to Lage’s spot-on, blithe but biting solo. Never the Same Way gives Burton a chance to invent new ways to work a simple modal vamp, Lage mimicking him and tossing off sparks before Colley adds wry humor. With its rippling vaudevillian hook, the title track is somewhat tongue-in-cheek: we dare you to listen to this without imaging a tenor sax line in the early going. It’s the space here that makes it, notwithstanding a deliciously bluesy Burton solo and some nimbly slashing lines from Lage. The real stunner here is Was It So Long Ago, atmospheric with an understated ache, totally noir without being the least bit cliched. As it goes on, it hints at the tango work that Burton so memorably explored a few years ago. When Lage’s guitar starts smoldering with just a tinge of natural distortion, it’s the perfect setup for Burton’s lingering ambience – and it’s not the only genuinely transcendent moment here.

Etude pairs off playful embellishments on a circular baroque figure with flamenco tinges; Last Snow follows a memorable, narrative trajectory from pensive to brighter and then back down again, courtesy of Colley. Sanchez livens up Did You Get It, a buoyant, witty jump blues. They reinvent My Funny Valentine – maybe the best-ever version of that moldy oldie – with lengthy, warily allusive solo guitar passages and then swing it with darkly bluesy touches. The album ends with the wickedly catchy Banksy, a noirish theme with a Get Carter ambience, switching artfully to a creepy jazz waltz midway through, and then the ballad In Your Place which begins as a pop song but gets interesting quickly. This is Burton’s debut on the Mack Avenue label. He had heart surgery last year, but it’s impossible to tell: still sounds like the same old heart to us, a very good thing.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful

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