Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Benny Sharoni’s Retro Jazz Is a Hit

The last jazz album we reviewed was noisy, frenetic and half rock. This one is all melody, laid-back and gorgeously oldschool. It’s one of those sleeper albums that you can put on and fool your snob friends with – just tell them it’s a rare reissue from fifty years ago, and most of them will buy it. Boston-based tenor saxophonist Benny Sharoni assembled a first-rate band to join him in a convivially expansive, purist mood on his new album Eternal Elixir. Joey “Sonny” Barbato (whose 2006 cd Crackerjack is a genuine classic and one of the finest of its rare kind, an accordion jazz album) plays piano here, joined by Barry Ries on trumpet, Mike Mele on guitar, Todd Baker on bass and Steve Langone on drums, with Kyle Aho taking over the 88s on four of the tracks. The vibe here is retro in a refreshing way: it feels like one of those early 60s Impulse albums, driven by camaraderie rather than showboating, the kind of date players record because they have something they think is worth capturing, rather than simply to satisfy the terms of a label deal.

The album opens with Bernstein, Sharoni’s propulsive tribute to the conductor/composer, Barbato’s fluidly precise runs echoed by Sharoni further on. French Spice, a tastily catchy Donald Byrd tune from 1961 that moves deftly from hypnotic pulse to proto-funk to straight-up swing and back again, Sharoni taking his cue from Wayne Shorter’s casually soulful performance on that song (as he does on another Byrd composition here, an understated version of the vampy Pentecostal Feelin’). Barbato’s terse, understated solo turns with a grin from blithe to bluesy in a split second. The version of Estate here mutes its bossa origins, recasting it as slow swing and stripping it down to its inner soul with aptly summery, almost minimalist solos from Barbato and then Sharoni. Likewise, the band breathes new life into Bobby Hebb’s Sunny as a latin jazz number, a launching pad for some lively melismas and trills from Ries and some impressively straight-up blues from Aho.

Benito’s Bossa Bonita, an original gets the same casually comfortable, easy-wearing swing of Estate, with a couple of especially choice, effortlessly congenial solos from Sharoni and a terse conversation between Aho’s piano and Baker’s bass. To Life, based on the 1964 Cannonball Adderley version, maintains the laid-back bluesy mood, Ries (with a mute) and then Sharoni gimlet-eyed and content while Barbato keeps watch with sharp, incisively staccato chords. Another original, Cakes, sways with a distant Donald Fagen feel (Sharoni is a fan, having discovered Steely Dan as solace during his mandatory tour of duty in the Israeli army, a low point in his life), and a moody, reverb-tinged Mele solo. The album winds up with The Thing to Do, a cagy, swinging Blue Mitchell tune from 1964 and Senor Papaya, which takes its title from Sharoni’s papaya-grower father back home in Israel. Sharoni admits it’s quite ironic since Sr. Papaya himself is so laid-back and the song anything but. The Benny Sharoni Quartet plays Fridays in August at 8:30 PM at Winslow’s Tavern in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Her best album, the first instant classic to be released this year. Over the course of her previous six albums, Jenifer Jackson has carved out a niche that is uniquely her own, even though she wears her influences on her sleeve (Bacharach, the Beatles, and Brazilian jazz/pop most notably). There’s an impressive clarity of vision that pervades her music – a courageous one. It’s what Camus meant by lucidite – it’s evident from the first song on this album that this is someone who is firing on all cylinders, every synapse wide awake and often painfully aware of what’s going on. Her melancholy, intricate, jazz-inflected psychedelia doesn’t shy away from despair or loneliness. But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel: as strange as it may seem at first listen, this is ultimately a hopeful, optimistic album. Recorded live in the studio in order to evince as much interplay as possible out of her stellar backing band, the cd is a multistylistic tour de force, opening with Don’t Fade, old school 60s- 70s soul with fluttery organ fills and a soaring vocal. Like Sandy Denny, Jackson’s formidable prowess as a singer may not be physical – she’s not a big belter – but she packs an emotional wallop.

The album’s next cut Suddenly Unexpectedly, set to a fast shuffle beat with a bossa melody and layers of keys, is pure psychedelic tropicalia. The following track, Saturday, is something of an epic, and might be the most powerful song she’s ever recorded. It starts out somewhat Beatlesque, like a George song from the White Album. She pedals a chord through the verse, then all of a sudden the minor-key chorus descends: “It doesn’t matter anyway – I’ll keep it in my memory, that lovely Saturday.” Then the second verse kicks in, and everything picks up a notch. Jackson is also a painter, and as the images unwind, this tersely imagistic portrait of a young woman absolutely and heartbreakingly alone is absolutely, heartbreakingly beautiful.

After that, we get I Want to Start Something, more old-school soul with psychedelic flourishes, accordionist Sonny Barbato playing some delicious licks off Jackson’s equally tasty rhythm guitar. Her voice takes flight again at the end of the verse: “I’d like to find a place that feels like home…been so many places I don’t know why I can’t find it.”

The next cut, Dreamland, begins with a strangely captivating, tinkly piano intro into a wash of cymbals, then Jackson’s guitar kicks in all by itself. It’s Nashville gothic with all kinds of eerie, echoey effects from lead player Oren Bloedow’s guitar. It’s scarier than the fast, bluegrass-inflected version she used to play live, with a gorgeously sad lyric: “The way you loved me was a sin/I played a game I couldn’t win/Still I tried so hard to enter in/To the outer edge of Dreamland.”

Other standout tracks on the cd include the title track, gentle pastoral raga rock evocative of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with an amazing piano break by Barbato; Anywhere I Would Journey, with its slow descending progression and watery lead guitar; The Change, an epic old-school soul groove-fest that would be perfectly at home on an Isaac Hayes live album from the early 70s; and For You, which with its tricky time changes and 60s garage rock feel wouldn’t be out of place on a Love Camp 7 record.

This album is generously multi-purpose: it’s a hell of a headphone album, it would make a great bedroom record, but it’s also a good thing to give to anyone you know who’s going off the deep end. Jackson’s gentle, soft voice and her wise, knowing lyrics offer a kind of solace that’s completely absent in indie rock, and the inspiring interplay of the band behind her can be mesmerizing. She deserves props for having the guts to reach down into the abyss to come up with some of the songs on this album, while never losing sight of the subtle, frequently surreal wit that imbues so many of them. It’s only April, but I think we’ve found the best album of 2007 and this is it. Cds are available at cdbaby.com at the link above, in better record stores and at shows.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments