Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mesmerizing Lynchian Nocturnes from Sara Serpa and Andre Matos

Sara Serpa and Andre Matos‘ latest album, All the Dreams – streaming in full at Sunnyside Records – is the great Lynchian record of 2016. For those who might not get that reference, the familiar David Lynch film noir soundtrack formula pairs a coolly enigmatic torch singer with a tersely atmospheric jazz band, and this one fits that description, but with a distinctive edge that transcends the Julee Cruise/Angelo Badelamenti prototype. The songs are short, arrangements terse and purposeful, tunes front and center, awash in atmospheric natural reverb. It’s this blog’s pick for best vocal jazz album of the year (check NPR this week for their final critics poll as well as the rest of the list). The two’s next gig is at Shapeshifter Lab on Dec 16 at around 8, backed by their her magically picturesque City Fragments Band with Sofia Rei and Aubrey Johnson on vocals, Erik Friedlander-on cello and Tyshawn Sorey on drums

While singer/pianist Serpa and guitarist/bassist Matos both come out of the New England Conservatory’s prestigious jazz program – Serpa being a protegee and collaborator of iconic noir jazz pianist Ran Blake – this album transcends genre. The opening theme, Calma – coyly reprised at the end of the album – sets the scene, Serpa’s signature, disarmingly direct, unadorned vocalese soaring over Matos’ spare, belltone guitar, drummer Billy Mintz’s steady shuffle beat and Pete Rende’s synthesized ambience. There’s plenty of irony in the angst and regret implied as Serpa reaches resolutely and confidentl for the rafters – yet with inescapable sadness lurking underneath. It’s easy to imagine the opening credits of the new Twin Peaks series floating overhead.

It’s hard to think of a guitarist in any style, especially jazz, who makes more masterful use of space than Matos: his melodies are minamlistic yet rich at the same time. That laser-like sense of melody – up to now, best represnted on his excellent 2012 trio album Lagarto – resonates in the purposefully circling jangle of A La Montagne as Serpa provides stairstepping, practically sung-spoken harmonies overhead. She sings the steady, starry, hypnotic Estado De Graça in her native Portuguese – it wouldn’t be out of place in the far pschedelic reaches of the Jenifer Jackson catalog.

Story of a Horse builds from a gently cantering Americana theme to uneasy big-sky cinematics: imagine Big Lazy with keys instead of guitar. The spare, intertwining piano/guitar melody of the tenderly crescendoing Programa echoes the misty elegance of Serpa’s earlier work

Matos’ bass and Serpa’s vocalese deliver a ballesque duet over enigmatic guitar jangle throughout Água; then the duo return to pensively twilit spaciousness with Nada, Serpa singing an Alvaro de Campos poem with calm assurance. The album’s most expansive track, Night is also its darkest, furtive bass paired with increasingly ominous guitar as Serpa plays Twin Peaks ingenue.

The lingering, wistful Hino comes across as hybrid of Badalementi and Bill Frisell in an especially thoughtful moment. Lisboa, a shout-out to the duo’s old stomping ground, begins with purposeful unease and expands to airier but similarly enigmatic territory, Serpa’s atmospherics over Matos’ spare phrasing and minimalist hand-drum percussion bringing to life a flood of shadowy memories triggered by a fond homecoming.

Serpa takes a calmy rhythmic good-cop role, Matos playing the bad guy with his darkly hypnotic, circular hooks throughout Espelho, while the sparser Os Outros offers something of a break in the clouds. Before that funny ending, there’s a hypnotic, twinkling Postlude. It’s a mesmerizing step to yet another level of mystery and magic from two of the most quietly brilliant composers in any style of music – and ought to get them plenty of film work as well.

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December 11, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Brilliant Trio Album from Pianist Benny Green

Pianist Benny Green leads a trio on a three-night stand starting tonight at 7:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, continuing through Sunday and if potently original postbop is your thing, you can’t go wrong with these shows. It’s a launch weekend for his new trio album Magic Beans with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, just out on Sunnyside. As you’d expect from somebody who came up in the Art Blakey camp, this is a pretty intense album. Interestingly, what Green is going for on a lot of the numbers here is to bring to a piano trio the kind of harmonic jostling that characterized much of the sax/trumpet interplay between, say, Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan on innumerable early 60s Blue Note sides. It’s an inventive idea that imbues Green’s compositions with a frequently haunting edge. The arrangements are pretty straight-up, pre-Bill Evans style, the bass holding to the rhythm and anchoring the lows, Kenny Washington doing the impossible by playing both a slinky behind-the-beat groove while pushing it with cymbal and snare accents.

The opening track, Benny’s Crib is a straight-up swing number that runs nimbly along the curb side of the blues and stays there until a rather wry turnaround. Kenny Drew, a terse misterioso noir shuffle, has echoes of both Monk and Brubeck and warms up a little with more of a bluesy feel before a similarly judicious, tightlipped bass solo.  Flying Saucer also echoes Brubeck with considerably more aggression and knottily spiraling permutations on a tight chromatic progression

Jackie McLean, an apt homage, has bite, a neat syncopated clave hook and bracing close harmonies. Vanished goes way down toward the abyss, a murky, often creepy ballad with a Chopinesque plaintiveness and richly suspenseful restraint from Green. Harold Land takes something of a jump blues and gives it a dark early 60s intensity.

The ttle track kicks off as a brooding cha-cha livened by Kenny Washington’s rimshots before they take it out for a crepuscular stroll and then back to the dimlit cabana. Paraphrase, true to its title, sways along with a nebulous unease up to a dancing Peter Washington solo. The ballad La Portuguesa moves from a mist of cymbals and plaintive pedalpoint through an almost minimalist, fado-influenced tune. The final number is the moodily bouncy, tango-inflected Further Away. It’s only February, but we have a strong contender for best piano album of the year here. For a good idea how this sounds, Green will be doing a lot of this at both early and late sets through Sunday at the Jazz Standard.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Feinberg Offers an Aptly Counterintuitive Homage to Elvin Jones

Bassist Michael Feinberg found the inspiration for his new album The Elvin Jones Project somewhat by coincidence. While exploring the work of some of his favorite influences, among them Jimmy Garrison, Gene Perla and Dave Holland, he discovered that pretty much all of them had one connection or another with the iconic, extrovert jazz drummer. And the album does justice to Jones: like him, it’s counterintuitive. Along with the high-voltage material – propelled with a constant sense of the unexpected by the Cookers’ Billy Hart, an old friend of Jones and a similarly exuberant player – there’s a mix of quieter pieces, a couple of rarities and a single, somewhat skeletal, New Orleans-flavored Feinberg original. With all this in mind, it becomes less surprising that a relatively new jack like Feinberg could pull together such a formidable lineup for the project: Hart, plus George Garzone on tenor sax, Tim Hagans on trumpet, Leo Genovese (of Esperanza Spalding’s band) on piano and Rhodes, and Alex Wintz guesting on guitar on three tracks.

They bookend the album with two tracks from the 1982 album Earth Jones: the somewhat eerily twinkling In a Silent Way-flavored title track, hypnotically vamping with the echoey Rhodes and the occasional sudden, agitated crescendo; and Three Card Molly, Hart swinging it with clenched-teeth intensity punctuated by Hagans’ fiery, wailing attack and Genovese’s dynamically-charged spirals and atmospherics. The interlude toward the end of that last track, Genovese’s noir chords enhanced by Hart’s mysterioso cymbal splashes, is one of the album’s many high points.

Rather than trying to out-glissando Coltrane, Garzone brings a meticulously nuanced, understatedly spectacular, breathy rapidfire attack to Trane’s Miles Mode, Hart’s rumbling accents matched by Genovese’s hard-hitting piano, Feinberg evoking Christian McBride throughout a spacious, punchy solo. A more obscure swing number, Steve Grossman’s 1970 composition Taurus People, also benefits from aggressive teamwork from the rhythm section throughout Feinberg’s new arrangement, Hart having a grand old time throwing offbeats and cymbals into the fray, Garzone taking it down and out with an unexpectedly wary judiciousness.

They bring a triumphant, rather hypnotic early 70s intensity to Frank Foster’s The Unknighted Nations, Mintz’ offcenter guitar taking it further outside over Hart’s rollercoaster snare work, then bringing it all back to the hook with a single whiplash phrase. And Feinberg gives a clinic in lyrical solo bass on a version of Nancy with the Laughing Face, inspired by the 1962 Coltrane quartet version. The album is due out from Sunnyside on September 11; Feinberg leads pretty much the entire cast here at the cd release show at Birdland on September 13 at 6 PM, with $20 seats still available as of this writing.

August 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laszlo Gardony Keeps the Tunes Front and Center

Dave Brubeck is a fan of Laszlo Gardony, which makes sense: Gardony plays lyrical, often classically-tinged piano jazz. In a way, his new album Signature Time (tempo-wise, this Sunnyside release is surprisingly straight-ahead) is something of the reverse image of Monty Alexander’s new live one just reviewed here. Where Alexander goes for gusto, Gardony goes for reserve, with an often vividly pensive edge. Like Alexander’s work (especially three tracks: the opening piece which begins with a samba flavor and quickly goes in a darker direction; the tersely catchy song without words Under the Sky; and the hypnotically pulsing On African Land) – it’s very accessible, but also intelligent. Most of the songs here are done as a trio with John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel playing it very low-key on drums, with Stan Strickland guesting on tenor sax on two tracks. Besides just consistently good tunesmithing, what makes this album worth a listen? Consistency of vision: everybody’s on the same page here, all the way through, Gardony and occasionally Lockwood setting the mood and the others maintaining it.

The covers are extremely inventive. Lady Madonna is rendered practically unrecognizable – imagine what Ray Charles did with it and then stretch that out even further, insistent but also precise, Lockwood’s staccato pulse paralleling Gardony’s meticulousness. Lullaby of Birdland is given a distantly tango-flavored vibe, swaying on Lockwood’s staccato hook, with a long, prowling Gardony solo. And Billy Strayhorn’s Johnny Come Lately swings brightly but warily, Strickland following potently in the same vein. There’s also the self-explanatory, high-spirited Bourbon Street Boogie with Strickland in terse, triumphant mode.

There are also a couple of duds here. One is a new-agey vamp with vocalese that adds absolutely nothing; the other is a cover of Eleanor Rigby. Some songs pack such a wallop that trying to reinvent them in a style that carries less of a wallop is a mistake. That one might work as heavy metal, maybe, but even Lockwood’s cleverly creepy chromatics aren’t enough to put Gardony’s attempt over the top. Hubris can be fun…and it can also be a bitch.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – Eternal Interlude

These big-band arrangements of mostly earlier commissions – never before recorded – make the perfect vehicle for drummer/composer John Hollenbeck‘s big ideas.  Hollenbeck is one of the most successful composers to bridge the gap between jazz and new music. This new album, just out on Sunnyside, is the rousing result of that refusal to be pigeonholed. Hollenbeck’s hooks are direct and energetic: he’s got a way with a memorable tune and a fondness for even bigger, comfortable, lushly orchestrated arrangements. Dynamics are everything here – the twenty-piece ensemble will move from a big, blazing chart to skeletal tenor and piano, or bass and drums, in seconds flat and then slowly bring it back up again. The quieter passages here have a cinematic feel evocative of Elvis Costello’s collaborations with Richard Harvey; the more bustling ones evoke Mingus, or Monk, notably on the opening track, Foreign One (a pun and a loving reinvention of Monk’s Four in One), bulking up its catchy descending hook with a muscular chart capped with bright back-to-back tenor solos.

Tension builds on the mostly ambient, almost twenty-minute title track, the brass developing a slow, stately crescendo out of an effectively mysterious Gary Versace piano intro. A circular, somewhat hypnotic hook gets a slow, steady workout before it falls apart into a hazy flutter of call-and-response horns strangely evocative of Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother Suite. Another rise and a fall and then they’re out. Many of these patterns recur in the following track, Guarana, moving from atmospheric tone poem to a chase sequence to fluttery chaos, trombone serving as the voice of reason who will eventually prevail. The aptly titled The Cloud is a clinic in swells and ebbs.

The standout track here is also aptly titled, almost eighteen delicious minutes of Perseverance. This time the ensemble gives a funk-inflected melody a full-orchestra workout that eventually winds its way down to just the sax, the rest of the horns taking brief, crazed cameos against the stark ambience before Hollenbeck turns the mood darker with some solo tom-tom work. It builds to a fullscale stampede, its ferocious pummel an almost shocking contrast with the rest of the album. When they take it down and then bring it back, it becomes a reverse image, a happy Sunday sprint through a poppy field. The cd closes with on a hushed note with a brief, still tableau. This is one of those albums where repeated listening reveals something new and interesting every time. The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble play a marathon cd release show for this one on Nov 30 at 8 PM at le Poisson Rouge: first, violinist Todd Reynolds plays music from Hollenbeck’s recent Rainbow Jimmies cd, followed by Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann’s Future Quest group – Hollenbeck, Bleckmann, Gary Versace, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby – playing Meredith Monk, and then the Large Ensemble.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

There is no other composer in any other genre who is so completely on top of his game as tenor sax player JD Allen is right now, and thankfully he had the foresight to get back into the studio while he’s hot. This new one proves that last year’s release, the darkly majestic I Am I Am – a bonafide modern day jazz classic – was no fluke. “The music told me that it wanted to be called Shine,” he recently told WBGO’s Josh Jackson with a wink. “I feel very shiny when I wake up in the morning…a nice quarter that I might find, a nickel or two. Shine is good.” In a sense, the new album is an extension of the terse, four-minute “jukebox jazz” style the group mined so richly as a suite on the previous cd, here adding a somewhat more vintage, exploratory Pharaoh Sanders edge. The trio feel remains the same, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston an integral part of the compositions rather than merely supplementary pieces (in a spectacular moment of triumph for Royston, drums very frequently serve as the lead instrument here). As before, melody remains absolutely front and center – if anything, the songs here may be even catchier, if not as dark. Allen’s stock in trade as a sideman has always been an ironclad, logically terse no-nonsense attack and that’s in full effect here. This is jazz for humming to yourself coming up out of the subway to the street where it’s a lot cooler.

The cd opens with Esre, echoes of the central theme from I Am I Am, Royston kicking it off with a flurry of drums, Allen entering minimalistically yet with a surprising amount of squall. Sonhouse takes an opentuned delta blues guitar riff and soars with it over an understated funk bassline and Royston’s Niagara Falls cascades. On Conjuration of Angles, Allen serves as the the anchor, calm and assured whether gentle and stately or, later on, playfully breezy as Royston colors it wildly with a little help from a bitterly brief hint of a solo by August.

Marco has something of a signature sound for Allen, variations on an apprehensively circular theme.The title track is a surprisingly gentle, reassuring ballad, almost a lullaby, Royston rattling around with heightened expectations, threatening to spontaneously combust, but he never does. The rhythm section remains on the prowl on The Laughing Bell while Allen provides buoyant contrast: as with so many of the tracks on I Am I Am, it’s a masterpiece of matching timbre to emotion. East Boogie follows, Allen morphing an old Ornette Coleman theme into a gorgeously warm piano voicing over a comfortably syncopated stomp. A cleverly echoey rumble, Ephraim has August playing off Allen and then Royston. There’s also a cozy, trad swing blues with a terse bass solo, both Allen and Royston jumping out of their shoes on Teo, and a boisterously wary final tune simple titled Variations. And the next-to-last track, Se’Lah has the rapturous, spiritual-infused feel of a jazz classic.

The trio have some low-key shows coming up: in Brooklyn at Puppets Jazz Bar on 6/25 at 9 and at the Stone on 7/21 at 8 followed by a big six-night stand at the Vanguard starting on 8/11. If you wish you’d been around back in the day when Bird and Trane were kicking up dust, remember this era has its own great ones too: you might want to catch more than one of these shows.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment