Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lincoln Center’s 2018 Midsummer Night Swing Series Opens With Potent Relevance and Breathtaking Musicianship

At the risk of getting into serious trouble saying this, there hasn’t been such a stunning display of jazz talent on any New York stage this year as there was last night at the kickoff of Lincoln Center’s annual Midsummer Night Swing festival. The inspiration for the mighty big band, the Sisterhood of Swing, was the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated, all-female swing group, who debuted eighty-one years ago. As bandleader, trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg took care to remind the audience who packed Damrosch Park, those women risked their lives playing music together.

The members of this group weren’t risking their lives, but arguably the majority of them were out of their element. And few among this allstar cast play regularly with large ensembles, fewer still with a group the size of this one. The majority are bandleaders who play their own material rather than bouncy 1930s swing. Yet everybody seemed to be pretty much jumping out of their shoes to be involved in this project.

In two lengthy, hard-swinging sets that spanned from standards to cult favorites and an obscure gem or two, the fourteen-piece ensemble offered tantalizing glimpses of pretty much each member’s personality, yet in a completely different context considering where they’re usually found.

The audience responded most explosively to tenor saxophonist and singer Camille Thurman’s serpentine climb to the vocal stratosphere in one of the night’s few ballads, quite a contrast with her rapidfire scatting in a Benny Goodman diptych during the first set. Another big hit was tapdancer Michela Lerman’s nimble solo over Savannah Harris’ irrepressibly boisterous, tropically-tinged tom-tom syncopation, mirroring the drummer’s rambunctious drive in the second set’s opening number, Lady Be Good.

At the piano, Champian Fulton delivered purist, masterfully spacious, blues-drenched lines that fit the material perfectly, especially when the band threw her what could have been the night’s longest solo. In her first turn on the mic, she projected with a surprisingly steely intensity, then a second time around worked knowingly triumphant, bluesy, Dinah Washington-inspired melismas.

Lead trumpeter Jami Dauber joined with her brassy bandmate Linda Briceño and Skonberg as well in a wildly crescendoing, tightly spinning exchange in the wryly titled Battle of the Bugles, one of a handful of numbers from the catalog of Sweethearts of Swing creators Kat Sherrell and Natalie Wilson. Bassist Endea Owens benefited from excellent amplification, giving her a forceful presence. Chloe Feoranzo stood out most noticeably with her gritty baritone sax work; trombonist and singer Emily Asher also got time in the spotlight to channel some goodnaturedly wry humor. Lead alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin played punchy soul alongside her fellow reedwomen Thurman and Sharel Cassity.

On clarinet, Anat Cohen spun silky arpeggios on the less breathlessly pulsing numbers and delivered joyously dancing dixieland when the pace picked up, notably alongside violinist Regina Carter in A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove, a deliriously frantic obscurity by 1930s vioinist Ginger Smock. The two worked more calmly and majestically in a new instrumental arrangement of My Baby Just Cares for Me. The group closed with a joyously edgy take of the klezmer-tinged romp Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown, made famous by Mildred Bailey with the Tommy Dorsey band. The crowd didn’t want to let the band go after discovering this new sensation.

This year’s Midsummer Night Swing series continues through July 14 with a more eclectic series of dance bands than ever. Tomorrow at 7:30 PM it’s salsa pioneer and “El Rey de la Pachanga” Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana. It’ll cost you $17 to get out on the dance floor, something an awful lot of people last night were doing.

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June 27, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Howes Puts a Bluesy Spin on Violin Jazz

Calling your new album Out of the Blue, especially if you’re a string player, is pretty much akin to calling it A Love Supreme if you play sax. But no matter: jazz violinist Christian Howes plays it with an admirably purist sensibility, other than the occasions when he really digs in and delivers what sounds like a distorted guitar solo. And he does it with his own signature, melodic style. Jazz violinists inevitably get compared to either Stephane Grappelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, and to his credit Howes seldom sounds much like either one. You have to go back in time for guys like Stuff Smith, a bluesman, a style Howes reaches for more frequently than not here. The band behind him includes Robben Ford on guitars, Bobby Floyd (who wrote Knock on Wood) on organ and piano, Tamir Hendelman taking over on piano on several tracks, bass duties split between Kevin Axt on upright bass and Ric Fierabracci on bass guitar, with Joel Rosenblatt on drums.

The opening track, Fingerprints, is Wayne Shorter’s Footprints (via Chick Corea), moving from propulsive funk to astringently sweeping swing and a rippling Hendelman piano solo, Ford maintaining the vibe marvelously. A swinging version of Fats Domino’s I’m Walking is the one place where Grappelli comes to mind, Floyd going deep into the blues, Ford shifting from incisive to spiraling, with a soaring solo out. And was that a Hank Williams quote? Horace Silver’s Cape Verdean Blues emphasizes sway, syncopation, and straight-up bluesiness, Howes building to a graceful spiral down and deep into the shadows after Hendelman’s graceful cascades. Nicking a phrase from the Sister Sledge kitschfest Tell Me Something Good, Gumbo Klomp works a funk vamp, the Crusaders as done with violin, Ford reminding of his early glory days with Jimmy Witherspoon. The title track, a Jeff Lynne classic (just kidding – it’s an original) is warmly gospel-flavored, a feast of shifting textures, Rosenblatt playfully impatient and bustling underneath.

Sharon Hendrix guests on vocals on the torchy soul/blues Seek and Ye Shall Find. A shuffling, fusiony funk groove, Bobby’s Bad is a vehicle for some colorful Floyd work and a metallic solo out by Howes. Hendelman and then Ford turn a purist version of Sing Me Softly of the Blues over to Howes, who scurries and then shoots it across the bar to Floyd, who’s only too glad to join the fun. They wind up the album with the rhythmically tricky When Will the Blues Leave and a minimalistic, distantly ragtime piano-and-violin duo version of Sweet Lorraine. Blues fans may enjoy this as much as the jazz crowd. It’s out now on Resonance.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment