Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Relatively Rare Appearance by the Darkly Exhilarating Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra

Big band jazz composers may be the most pure artists in all of music. These people do what they do strictly out of love. When you’re done paying the band – if in fact there IS anything to pay the band  with- there is absolutely no money in writing original big band jazz. Even the universally respected Maria Schneider survives on Chamber Music America grants. So it would be a little misleading to say that the last time this blog caught a show by the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra, it was in late summer 2014 at a now-defunct Park Slope coffee emporium/wifi hotspot. The mighty ensemble might have played a couple of gigs since then. But what a fantastic show this one turned out to be! Considering how much of an individualist the bandleader is – his axe is the alto flugelhorn, sort of a higher-pitched valve trombone – it was no surprise to hear how distinctive his music for large ensemble is, a stormy, brassy blend of old and new, with a nod to the great Miles Davis/Gil Evans records of the late 50s and early 60s. He’s pulling the group together for a 4:30 PM gig on July 10 at Smalls; cover is $20 and includes a drink.

That Brooklyn show – at the old Tea Lounge, which for quite awhile was booked by a similarly estimable big band composer, JC Sanford – opened with deliciously bustling noir 50s crime jazz riffage and quickly hit a latin-infused swing fueled by an indomitable baritone sax solo, the brass punching in like a heavyweight with his nemesis on the ropes. A steady, apprehensively fiery trumpet solo handed off to sparsely dancing bass and eerily modal piano until the band rose again. It was like being at a Gil Evans show half a century ago, albeit surrounded by North Slope kids absorbed in their laptops and tablets.

Reeves kept the latin flavor going through the vampy second number, a brassy blaze finally interrupted by a wryly garrulous bari sax break, the composer taking a judiciously enigmatic, uneasily bubbling solo as the rhythm section crashed and burned. Catchy call-and-response between high reeds and brass dominated the trickily syncopated number after that, lit up by a tantalizingly moody alto sax solo.

A brooding midtempo clave number was next, Reeves soloing resolutely and steadily as the rest of the brass shivered, up to a neat if similarly uneasy round-robin brass chart, The band sank their collective teeth into a blustery early space-age Ellingtonian shuffle after that, And the trumpet solo on the eerily triplet-infused number that followed, wow. If memory serves right, the band also made their way through an Ellington tune late in the set (when you’re multitasking and letting your recorder do the heavy lifting, details like this grow exponentially elusive over time).

Oh yeah – one more thing – Reeves loves false endings as much as he loves noir latin grooves. There’s nothing more fun than getting the crowd to believe that every single one of the eighteen or so people onstage is finished, when in fact they’re not. At this late date, it’s impossible to remember who was in the band – Sanford might have been on trombone, maybe Ben Kono – a fortuitously ubiquitous presence in big band circles in this city these days – on alto sax, possibly Carl Maraghi on bari sax and Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet, among the group assembled back behind the couches along the space’s northern wall. What’s coolest about the Smalls gig is that whoever’s on piano gets to play the house upright rather than the electric piano the band was forced to make do with in Park Slope.

June 30, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Erica Seguine/Shannon Baker Jazz Orchestra Bring Their Epic Sweep and Irrepressible Fun Uptown

The most intriguing big band concert of this new year isn’t happening at the Vanguard, or Birdland, or the Jazz Standard or even Brooklyn’s home to exciting new large ensembles, Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus. It’s happening January 27 starting at 6 PM when the Erica Seguine/Shannon Baker Jazz Orchestra play two sets uptown at Shrine. There’s no cover, and it’s happy hour. What more could a jazz fan possibly want, cheap drinks and some of the most individualistic, colorful charts you could hear in 2016?

On one hand, it’s a miracle that the big band jazz demimonde still exists. It’s hardly a moneymaking venture for artists (although venues love it since it draws a crowd). Yet composers persist in keeping the genre alive. Mot big bands play either standards, or the repertoire of a single composer (the Mingus Orchestra and related bands, for example), or their bandleader. The Erica Seguine/Shannon Baker Jazz Orchestra divide their time between the work of their two distinctive composers. It would be overly reductionistic to say that Seguine defines herself with cleverness and eclecticism and Baker with singleminded intensity, but those qualities assert themselves throughout each composer’s work.

Seguine, who conducts the ensemble, distinguishes herself with her vivid, cinematic narratives, counterintuitive Gil Evans-like color contrasts….and her sense of humor. It’s hard to think of another composer whose work can take such amusing twists and turns as as hers does. She also likes to incorporate other genres, from spaghetti western to Romany jazz and carnivalesque themes, into her music. And she likes to swing, hard. Saxophonist Shannon Baker’s compositions tend to be more specifically focused and defined by tectonically shifting sheets, atmospheric cresecendos and long panoramic stretches that provide a launching pad for the band’s individual voices. Yet there’s crossover between the two: they’ve been a good influence on each other.

The orchestra’s music page features audio and video from both. Seguine’s pieces begin with a coyly erudite tango-jazz arrangement of a Bach Adagio which develops into a shapeshifting, multi-segmented epic with plenty of room for solos throughout its kaleidoscopic sweep, Steve Kortyka’s thoughtful and playful tenor sax solo at the center. A segment from her Phases of Water suite builds around a suspenseful pulse straight out of Holst’s The Planets,with eerie chromatics channeled via an agitated trombone solo, mighty swells juxtaposed within its spacious charts, and balletesque hints of Tschaikovsky.

Baker is first represented by The New Day Bends Light, a suspenseful tableau where a choir of voices comes in wordlessly toward the end, then Sonia Szajnberg takes the mic. “We shall not succumb to the shadows” is her mantra. Ed Wood Goes to the Beach takes one of Baker’s signature moody, spacious expanses and fills it up with blazing electric guitar over a careening surf beat. That’s just for starters.

Their most recent show at Shrine was this past September, an exuberant and tight performance from the massive eighteen piece group which included two familiar standouts from the New York big band jazz scene, alto saxophonist Ben Kono and trombonist Scott Reeves (also leader of his own distinctive big band). Considering how tightly the orchestra was packed into the lowlit back room, it was hard to tell who else, other than Baker, was playing. In practically two hours onstage, they aired out a lot of new material, the most stunningly serpentine number being a phantasmagorical suite of sorts by Seguine that warped in and out of a furtive Balkan-tinged theme. If a trip uptown on the 2 or 3 express to 135th seems daunting, the group will be the centerpiece of a massive big band triplebill at Shapeshifter Lab on March 8 at 7:30 PM for $15.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet at 55 Bar, NYC 5/3/09

Fresh off a Japanese tour, composer/educator/horn player Scott Reeves was playing the second of two cd release shows for his quintet’s new one, Shapeshifter, one of the most strikingly beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years.  What proved most interesting to discover was how thoroughly composed the songs are – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no words necessary. As a composer, Reeves writes to the strength of his players, tenor saxist Rich Perry’s thoughtful bluesiness, pianist Jim Ridl’s laserlike sense of darkness, bassist Mike McGuirk’s tirelessly prowling propulsion and drummer Andy Watson’s uncanny, understated feel for shade and surprise. With the new cd being a live recording, the question was how much of it would turn out to be improvised and the answer was not that much. That such a question could only be answered by seeing the band live speaks volumes.

Seated behind the club’s precariously swaying Rhodes instead of an acoustic piano, Ridl adjusted to the reverberating textures and dynamic consistency by leaving plenty of space for the notes to ring out, saving his pyrotechnics for the infrequent, bluesy run down the keys (his playing on acoustic piano on the cd is a feast of nocturnal textures). Reeves himself played with clarity, precision and the kind of exacting rigor you would expect from an academic, frequently utilizing a pitch pedal that allowed him to play chords. They opened with the cd’s darkly metamorphosizing title cut, Reeves’ alto flugelhorn harmonizing with the Rhodes to the point where the sound was a perfect blend, one instrument indistinguishable from the other, then Perry taking a lengthy, balmy excursion before a sparse Rhodes solo as the bass and drums swerved around it. The catchy, Miles Davis-inflected Last Call swung with a buoyant bluesiness before Reeves, now on trombone, introduced a subtly overcast, modal undercurrent.

Reeves went back to flugelhorn for the bustling, rhumba-flavored 3 ‘n 2, followed by a surprisingly casual and comfortable take on the otherwise quite poignant Without a Trace, a showcase for some blazing fingerwork for Ridl. They wrapped up the night’s opening set with a Miles Davis dedication, the Alchemist, a funky track that would be perfectly at home on, say, In a Silent Way. McGuirk paced it with an energetic Ron Carter-ish insistence, Ridl taking charge with an ocean of waves up and down the scale, Reeves and Perry winding up and then down in a bracingly fluttery exchange of riffs. Reeves is not exactly unknown, but underappreciated: jazz fans should discover him. And even if jazz is not your first love, you’ll undoubtedly find his melodies percolating in your brain long after taking in a show.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet – Shapeshifter: Live at Cecil’s

Many years ago, as an expose of the publishing industry, an investigative reporter had his assistant type up a couple of chapters of a bestselling Jerzy Kosinsky novel and then sent it around to several houses. None of them offered a contract, few even looked at it, and the one editor who commented on it mentioned a similarity to Kosinsky but said it was poorly written. Likewise, when this cd came over the transom, all signs pointed to a prank. It has the slightly boomy live room sound common to good-quality bootlegs from the 50s, a couple of tracks fade out rather than ending cold, and the piano is just a hair out of tune (which accidentally enhances the dark glimmer of several of the songs). The arrangements are typically oldschool, the band introducing the head, individual members following with solos. And the compositions are exquisitely melodic. What classic combo from the golden age, circa 1959, could this be? Who might be responsible for that gorgeously nocturnal, vividly impressionistic piano? Wynton Kelly? Not bluesy enough. Dave Brubeck, at his late-50s apex? No, too bluesy. The rhythm section has taste and swing, the tenor player doesn’t waste a single note and the trumpeter plays with a Miles Davis-like clarity. Except that’s not a trumpet. As with the original Kind of Blue, could this have been recorded at the wrong speed? And who’s trying to pull a fast one here?

 

Answer: nobody. Scott Reeves is a highly regarded composer and educator at the CUNY School of Music and Juilliard who’s played with several high-profile acts in addition to leading his own ensembles. What he’s playing on seven of the nine tracks here is an alto flugelhorn, fusing the slower, soulful attack of a trombone with the broader color spectrum of a much smaller horn (he also plays his own creation, the alto valve trombone on two cuts). This is his latest cd, and it’s one of the most beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years. Reeves credits Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata as inspiration for the opening, title track, Jim Ridl’s elliptically mysterioso piano providing an austere backdrop – and absolutely no shelter – for a terse horn arrangement, Rich Perry’s tense, wary tenor and Reeves’ equally terse and startling solos. And then, true to its title, the scene suddenly shifts, the rhythm section scurrying along beneath atmospheric sheets of sound punctuated by Ridl’s incisiveness.

 

The nocturnal glimmer that permeates the album is most vivid and beautiful on the cd’s best cut, the long, almost twelve-minute New Bamboo, a hauntingly modal number stalking along on Mike McGuirk’s ominous bassline and Ridl’s dark, insistent chords, Reeves adding a beautifully lyrical flugelhorn solo. And then the piano makes a long, painstaking attempt to bring some light into the darkness, but you almost know it’s not going to happen. And then it’s over. This is a pantheonic song, one that a whole lot of musicians will be adding to their repertoire once word gets around.

 

The aptly titled Incandescence shares the same hauntedly romantic, after-sunset feel, the horns building the theme in unison over murky, menacing piano as the rhythm pulses, McGuirk adding a plaintive solo. Reeves and Perry conduct a clinic in shadow and shading, and Ridl adds a hauntingly insistent, poignant solo that’s the high point of the entire cd.

 

The album’s other tracks include also the catchy, funky, Miles Davis-inspired The Alchemist; the richly coloristic, pensive Without a Trace, a trio of upbeat, tunefully swinging numbers and a stab at a samba with some evocatively breezy work from Perry (and a beat that stomps rather than sways – easy, guys, this stuff is supposed to be sultry!). Not only is this a great album for jazz fans, it’s a great stealth attack weapon. Like Sketches of Spain, A Love Supreme or the latest JD Allen Trio cd, it’s a way to turn your rock friends on to what you’ve known all along. Reeves is currently on Japanese tour, returning for a gig with this group at 55 Bar on May 3 with sets at 9:30 and 11.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment