Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trumpeter Steph Richards Puts Out Her Most Adventurous, Challenging Album

When trumpeter Steph Richards led an animated quartet through a dynamic set full of daunting extended technique at Public Records in Brooklyn back in July of last year, rumors were already circulating that the weekly jazz night there might be over soon. And it was. But whoever thought that beyond busking – or a restaurant gig, ouch – Richards might not even have an established venue to play in New York in 2020? If the lockdowners get their way, folks, we will never get to see live jazz outside of a park, or a streetcorner, or a probably super-quiet house party.

Fortunately, in the meantime, we have Richards’ new album Supersense, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most adventurous release yet. Her inspired band here includes pianist Jason Moran, bassist Stomu Takeishi and Kenny Wollesen on drums plus his Wollesonics assortment of large and small gadgets to be spun and struck. The tracks here are on the short side, seemingly almost completely improvised and full of high-energy repartee rather than the calmer, more atmospheric material Richards has released lately.

Mutedly dancing prepared piano, fuzzy bass growl and percussive flickers give way to Richards’ washes and flutters in the increasingly amusing opening number, Underbelly. Swaying funk and a little frenetic swing underpin the sharply bursting riffage of the album’s title track, Moran’s majestic chords and motives anchoring Richards’ charging lines, Takeishi’s burbles ushering in a reflecting pool and then a murky stomp.

Canopy, with Moran’s glittery but understated cascades and Takeishi’s signature growl, is a launching pad for the bandleader’s high-voltage flurries. Richards and Takeishi exchange wavery echo phrases over Moran’s sober, spacious chordal series and Wollesen’s similarly judicious accents in the next number, Glass.

Everybody rumbles and scampers in the hasty improvisation Metal Mouth, followed by Bunker, where Wollesen goes through his collection of objects as Richards snorts and strains away from the center over Takeishi’s insistence. Rumbles, ripples and suddenly cut-off trumpet phrases mingle in Matter in Water, while Sleeping in the Sky is a chilly, flutelike tableau with the occasional thunderstorm motif.

Richards winds up the album with The Gentlest Insect, her fluttering accents and warmly lyrical lines awash in surreal ambience and water-instrument ripples. Fun fact: this is the only known jazz album whose credits include someone in charge of “scent design.” That person is Sean Raspet. We can only hope for the best in that regard. The electronic press kit containing the tracks didn’t smell like anything.

December 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trumpeter Steph Richards Brings Sardonic Humor and Allusive Relevance to Crown Heights Friday Night

Steph Richards represents the most imaginative contingent of the new generation of trumpeters. Her compositions shift back and forth between idioms and leave a lot of room for improvisation, enabled by her prowess as a master of subtle segues. She also has a great sense of humor. Her previous album was cinematic and deviously fun. Her latest release, Take the Neon Lights – streaming at Bandcamp – is far darker, alluding to some of the grim developments in real estate bubble-era New York. Her next gig is at the Owl on June 7 at around 9 PM. Be aware that there’s no Brooklyn-bound service to the nearest subway station, President St., so you’ll have to get off at Franklin and walk from there – it’s about fifteen minutes on foot. There is Manhattan-bound service on the way back.

She opens the album with the title track. James Carney’s piano hints at lingering Steely Dan noir before drummer Andrew Munsey picks up the pace, Richards shifting from exploratory circles to pulsing intensity and back as bassist Sam Minaie hammers on the beat. At the end, she plays bad cop against the band’s sober backdrop, then gives up and joins them: she packs a lot into this six-minute mini-epic.

Brooklyn Machine has simple, sardonic call-and-response – overdubbed trumpet and flugelhorn – along with shapeshiftingly insistent rhythms and a hilariously cartoonish, multitracked trumpet conversation: it could be a lost track from Darcy James Argue‘s Brooklyn Babylon. Time and Grime, an improvised tone poem, has each musician in a separate corner, Munsey’s drums leading the way from uneasy contemplation to playful jousting.

Likewise, Rumor of War slowly unfolds, Carney’s minimalist, eerily echoing piano again anchoring the outward movement. Transitory Gleams, a rubato haunter with lingering piano and mutedly suspenseful drums, is the album’s most striking number, Richards floating moodily overhead.

With a wide-angle mute, Richards pairs off with Minaie’s steady, bowed swaths as the epic Skull of Theatres gets underwary, Carney joining her as the music brightens, his brooding modalities holding the center while Richards plays incongrous, irresistibly funny swing lines. Is this strictly a musical parody, or a commentary on cluelessly blithe gentrifiers? They bring it back to somber reality, not without a little sarcasm, at the end.

The album’s centerpiece is another epic, Stalked by Tall Buildings – #bestsongtitleever, huh? A more-or-less steady funk groove underpins Richards’ off-center riffs, then Minaie keeps it on track as Carney’s flourishes spin through the mix. The bandleader reaches for optimism throughout a long deep-sky interlude, finally pulling everybody up, hard: this tune wants to stay close to the ground. She winds up the album with All the Years of Our Lives, flickering through the mist. Interesting times produce interesting music, don’t they?

June 2, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trumpeter Steph Richards Brings Her Devious Sense of Humor to Lefferts Gardens Saturday Night

The cover illustration for trumpeter Steph Richards’ solo album Fullmoon (streaming at Bandcamp) shows an open palm holding what could be a postcard of the moon – a pretty warped moon, anyway. But when you click on the individual tracks to play them (on devices that play mp3s, anyway), it turns out that’s a phone the hand is holding, and you’re taking a selfie. Truth in advertising: Richards’ music is deviously fun. She’s bringing her horn and her pedal to a show at the Owl on March 2 at 9 PM; ten bucks in the tip bucket helps ensure she’ll make more appearances at that welcoming, well-appointed listening room.

The album’s opening track, New Moon is based around a catchy, repetitive two-note riff, spiced with gamelanesque electronic flickers via Dino J.A. Deane’s sampler, with unexpected squall at the end. The second number, Snare develops from a thicket of echo effects, insectile sounds and breathy bursts, to a wry evocation of a snare drum. Then, with Piano, Richards moves from desolate, echoey, minimalist phrases to wryly cheery upward swipes: the title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either the instrument or the dynamic.

The coy humor of the atmospheric miniature Half Moon introduces the album’s first diptych, Gong, which develops into a querulous little march, then a weird kaleidoscope of polyrhythms. Timpani doesn’t sound anything like kettledrums; instead, it’s a funny bovine conversation that all of a sudden grows sinister – although the ending is ridiculously amusing. The album ends with the title track, Richards developing a complicated conversation out of late-night desolation in the first part, then a barnyard of the mind (or the valves). Her levity is contagious – and she’s capable of playing with a lot more savagery than she does here, something that wouldn’t be out of the question to expect Saturday night in Lefferts Gardens.

February 27, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment