Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hard-Hitting, Optimistic, Catchy Protest Jazz From Trumpeter John Bailey

Trumpeter John Bailey‘s most recent album Can You Imagine? – streaming at Spotify – is a call for compassion and decency, recorded in 2019 at a time of increasing polarization in this country. Bailey released it in January of 2020, less than two months before the most extreme divide-and-conquer scheme the world has ever known came crashing down. Inspired by the activism of Dizzy Gillespie, the album is every bit as relevant now, and this blog shares Bailey’s optimism that compassion and justice will ultimately prevail. There’s a singalong catchiness to a lot of this, and Bailey’s sense of humor will grab you when least expected.

The opening number is Pebbles in the Pocket, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Victor Lewis launching into a deftly tumbling, brisk clave groove alongside pianist Edsel Gomez as Bailey harmonizes brightly with tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trombonist Stafford Hunter. Catchy tune! The bandleader echoes the album’s big influence, choosing his spots for riffs and cascades, handing the party over to Dillard and then Hunter’s burbling exuberance.

Bailey took his inspiration for the President Gillespie Suite, a triptych, from Gillespie’s publicity stunt Presidential run in 1964. Spare bluesiness and a slinkier clave introduce the first part, The Humanitarian Candidate, Bailey adding cheer with his mute before the horns enter for the understated majesty of Road to the Blues House. Hunter flutters up to a calmly triumphant triangulation, Dillard raising the ante for Bailey in the coda, President Gillespie’s Birthday Song as Lewis subtly takes everything doublespeed. Gotta love that ending – no spoilers.

Lewis’ The Touch of Her Vibe features Gomez’s sternly rustic blues underpinning a wry three-horn conversation, then the scene shifts to an uneasily resonant march with Bailey punching in hard overhead before a misterioso calm, handing centerstage to Hunter. After that, The Blues House is an ebullient, bluesy swing tune infused with warmly energetic horn solos.

Chico O’Farrill’s Ballad From Oro, Incienso Y Mirra gets a slowly undulating groove and invitingly balmy horns, Bailey followiug a long launching pad before Gomez’s ripples bring the tropical flight in for a comfortable layover punctuated by a subtly devious series of tempo shifts.

Elite State of Mind, a soulful jazz waltz by Dillard has Janet Axelrod joining the conversation on alto flute, the composer judiciously fueling the upward drive, Hunter and Bailey adding calm before a genial wee-hours solo by Gomez. The group reinvent Valsa Rancho by Brazilian guitarist Chico Buarque as a suspenseful nocturne with Axelrod on bass flute, Dillard raising the adrenaline with his most rapidfire solo of the program.

From the Heart, a second Lewis tune, keeps the latin theme going, a brisk bossa-tinged rhythm anchoring expansive, thoughtful solos by Bailey, Dillard and Gomez. The last song on the album may have been done by Ella Fitzgerald, but from this point of view even that can’t erase the smell of mallstore cookies and the tedium of having to trudge along with the parents to K-Mart instead of sneaking off to the video arcade to play alongside the big kids.

Bailey’s gig page doesn’t list any shows coming up, but Dillard is leading a quintet tomorrow night, March 19 at 10:30 PM at Smalls, which has reopened without restrictions. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

March 18, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.

April 25, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band Is Everything You’d Expect

In some ways, what Pink Floyd, Nektar, Supertramp and all the rest of the orchestrated rock bands were to the “classic rock” era, new big band jazz is to the decade of the teens. It’s where you get your epic grandeur fix. Towering, intense angst; full-blown exhilaration. There’s a lot more of the latter than the former on pianist Orrin Evans’ brand-new Captain Black Big Band album, but there’s still gravitas and intensity as you would expect from him. Like the Mingus repertory bands, Evans employs a rotating cast for this group, in this case an A-list mostly from New York and Philadelphia, in a live concert recording. Also like Mingus, the compositions blend an impatient urban bustle with an irrepressible joie de vivre. The compositions are pretty oldschool, closer to Mingus or Ellington than, say, than Jim McNeely.

The album gets started on a trad note with Art of War, a brisk bluesy swing tune by drummer Ralph Peterson. Rob Landham’s alto solo goes squalling quickly and spirals out neatly with a blaze as the brass rises – it’s sort of a warmup for what’s to come.Here’s the Captain, by bassist Gianluca Renzi opens with Evans’ murky distant piano grandeur – it’s a Cuban son montuno groove led by the trombone, an incisively simmering Victor North tenor solo followed by Evans who stays on course with a couple of cloudbursts thrown in for good measure. Inheritance, by bass clarinetist and big band leader Todd Marcus is swinging and exuberant with New Orleans tinges and a modified Diddleybeat. The first of Evans’ compositions, Big Jimmy is a soaring swing number with some deftly concealed rhythmic trickiness, trumpeter Walter White faking a start and then moving it up to some blissed-out glissandos, followed by tenor player Ralph Bowen who jumps in spinning out wild spirals – it’s adrenalizing to the extreme.

Buoyantly memorable in a late 50s Miles kind of way, Captain Black maxes out a long, fiery ensemble passage into solos by pianist Jim Holton (Evans has moved to the podium to conduct), Bowen shifting from shuffle to sustain followed by trombonist Stafford Hunter shadowboxing with the band. They save the best for last with the final two tunes. Easy Now is absolutely gorgeous, a study in dark/light contrasts with an ominous, dramatic low brass-driven intro lit up by drummer Anwar Marshall’s blazing cymbals. Trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and then baritone saxophonist Mark Allen go from pensive to assured and playful over Evans’ wary, wounded gospel-tinged lines; it winds up on a roaring, powerful note. The album concludes with the rich sepia tones of Jena 6, a track that also appears on Evans’ superb Tarbaby album from last year, referencing the Arkansas students persecuted in the wake of a 2007 attack by white racists. A lyrical Neil Podgurski piano intro begins the harrowing narrative with an ominous series of slow, portentous gospel-tinged crescendos. As Jaleel Shaw’s alto moves from genial swing to unhinged cadenzas and anguished overtones while the orchestra cooks behind him and then leaves him out to wail all alone, the effect is viscerally stunning. Count this among the most richly satisfying albums of 2010 so far. Evans will be interviewed on NPR’s A Blog Supreme this Friday the 25th; the album is just out on Posi-Tone.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments