Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Who Says Club Owners Can’t Play?

Most club owners who play music usually suck at it. The reason many of them open a venue is to have a place to play since nobody else will give them a gig. But once in awhile, you find a club owner who not only isn’t an atrocity exhibition, but actually has talent. Case in point: pianist Spike Wilner, impresario of Smalls, the well-loved downtown New York jazz institution. Wilner has a vivid, impressionistic third-stream style that draws as deeply on ragtime as it does on classic jazz, and on his latest album La Tendresse – out now from Posi-Tone – there are some genuinely breathtaking moments. He’s got a fast, liquid legato that can keep up with pretty much anybody in either jazz or classical, something he proved beyond reproach on his previous solo album, recorded live at the club. Here, his ragtime roots are in equally full effect: he covers Solace, and while he doesn’t try to put an original stamp on Scott Joplin, he also doesn’t embarrass himself. And the album gets even better from there.

He opens the title track, one of three original compositions here, with a rather stern passage featuring a lot of block chords that slowly develop outward into shuffling ripples that grow unexpectedly chilly and chromatic: if this is tenderness, then tenderness is scary. The second original, Silver Cord, also works a neoromantic vibe, slowly unwinding from tensely rhythmic to more cantabile, with a bit of wry Donald Fagen in the chords toward the end. Wilner reinvents Leonard Cohen’s – woops, Irving Berlin’s Always as a jazz waltz, building intensity with a delightfully vivid, ringing series of raga-like chords. He puts his own mark on Lullaby of the Leaves slowly and methodically, solo, from an expansive rubato intro, to a casual ragtime-fueled stroll and a playful classic rock quote at the end. Then he, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Joey Saylor – who stay within themselves as supporting players throughout the album – scurry their way through a lickety-split take of After You’ve Gone, a showcase for sizzling, precise chops.

A couple of other tracks are far more pensive, notably purist takes on Ellington’s Le Sucrier Velours and Monk’s Crepuscule with Nellie, along with a nocturnally bluesy, wee-hours version of Richard Rodgers’ Little Girl Blue. I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together gets a skeletal, practically minimalist interpretation that’s over all too soon in well under three minutes. There are a couple of short tracks here that could have been left on the cutting room floor and the album wouldn’t be any worse for it, especially a song from the Wizard of Oz, that – it’s awfully hard to resist a bad pun here – if they’d only had a clue, would have given up trying to redeem as ragtime. Speaking of the Wiz, there are several other quotes here from that soundtrack that are as mystifying as the inclusion of that particular cut. Otherwise, this is something that ought to bring together fans of ragtime, jazz and the Romantic repertoire, who will probably unanimously enjoy a collection by a musician who probably doesn’t need any more fans (club owners always draw hugely at their gigs, if only because the artists they book make sure to come out and be seen there) but deserves them anyway.

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June 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Dred Scott Trio with Strings at Smalls Jazz Club, NYC 6/10/09

Jazz with strings – what a great trend this could be! Guitarist Gene Bertoncini turned in a lushly beautiful set with a string quartet at the Jazz Standard back in March and this was even better. The Dred Scott Trio’s weekly Tuesday midnight residency at Rockwood Music Hall is now over four years old, at the point where legendary status starts to creep in, and this show in the more spacious, comfortable downstairs confines of Smalls reaffirmed that eventuality. Scott’s a fast, sometimes pyrotechnic pianist in the Kenny Barron mode, but more playful and stylistically diverse, as adept at ballads as he is barrelling along at full throttle. There’s a fearlessness and a completely out-of-the-box sensibility in his playing and his writing that ultimately goes back to punk rock. This show was typical in that Scott, bassist Ben Rubin and drummer Tony Mason, lushly augmented by an all-female string quartet, aired out pretty much every weapon in the arsenal.

They opened with a swinging original, Apropos of Nothing, vividly lyrical strings doubling the intro’s syncopated hook, then accentuating the end with a fast, staccato eight note passage. Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a genial, pretty straight-up bluesy number vastly benefited from the sweep of the strings. Scott had named another original Mojo Rhythm after a friend’s kid of the same name (you have to wonder about guys like that), a striking, intensely rhythmic number with Mason kicking up rolling thunder, Scott swaying and stomping through the opening melody, Rubin bringing in the crescendo on the chorus as the strings ably doubled it. And then Scott and Rubin yelled “Fuck you!” in unison. It was the only lyric of the set. An unsettling violin solo appeared amidst the pandemonium but without amplification, was pretty much lost in the melee.The cheesy eighties hit Let’s Get Physical was redone as a bossa tune with some tastefully incisive fills by Scott, ironically the evening’s least physical number.

Best song of the night was Bobo, the nickname for a California town Scott had spent some time in as a kid, a plaintive, Dave Brubeck-esque jazz waltz lit up by an absolutely gorgeous eight-chord head that screamed out to be brought back, again and again. And finally, it was. Scott then brought up longtime co-conspirator Carol Lipnik (whose show at the Delancey earlier this spring had to have been one of the year’s most transcendent live moments so far) for vocals on a cover of Brian Eno’s By This River. Warmly and inclusively, backed only by Scott’s piano, the occasional minimalist bass note or cymbal touch, her vocalese took the crowd way out to a different place (she’s going to Yaddo in a couple of weeks – maybe that had something to do with it). The band wrapped up the set with a scurrying, somewhat apprehensive tableau taken way up by a Scott solo, furiously and intricately working vast permutations of a walk down the major scale. If you haven’t seen this band yet, they’re at the Rockwood every Tuesday – you have no excuse.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Jacam Manricks Quintet at Smalls Jazz Club, NYC 5/22/09

Jacam Manricks has a fluid, fluent approach to the alto sax, but it’s his compositions which are his drawing card – and which may absolutely blow you away. Playing a mix of material mostly from his new cd Labyrinth – recorded with a 40-piece orchestra – the Australian-American composer and his quintet locked in on the songs’ intricate, often epic permutations with intensity and nuance. The bass and drums maintained a sinuous, practically minimalist pulse throughout some awfully tricky changes while pianist Gary Versace colored them with characteristic vividness and frequently outright menace. Perhaps because this was a five-piece playing big band music, the integral nature of the arrangements was especially striking, guitarist Ben Monder completing unfinished piano chords, or Versace doing the same in tandem with the guitar. Sometimes Manricks would do the same in tandem with the bass. Intelligence and imagination lept from the charts with agility and sometimes a wary apprehension.

Aeronautics, a bit of a latin shuffle with sustained, understated, reflective guitar saw Manricks taking a series of fluttery runs through shifting sections of the scale, Versace feeling around for his footing and eventually finding it, rich and ominous.  The modal suite Microgravity was a full-scale masterpiece (one can only imagine how lush it sounds with the orchestra on the cd). Manricks opened it brightly, then bass and piano teaming up against guitar and sax, Monder hypnotic and eerie throughout a long series of quavery, reverberating chordal passages that recurred at the end, Versace practically microtonal with his starry, glimmering upper-register work. The cd’s title track, built on a richly melodic, interlocking architecture featured a playful conversation between Versace and the drums. They closed their second set with a new composition, simply titled 2-3-2 with a bouncy, staggered vintage Cuban beat, Manricks warily expansive over some Balkan-inflected changes to an insistent, intensely pulsing crescendo. One can only wonder where someone like Ivo Papasov could take that song. A jazz educator, Manricks doesn’t get the chance to play out as much as he no doubt would like to: if cutting-edge, out-of-the-box stuff is your thing, don’t miss the chance to see him.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment