Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sam Bardfeld Puts on His Richard Nixon Mask Just in Time for Halloween

What could be more appropriate for Halloween month than a fearsome violinist who sometimes leads a band called Up Jumped the Devil? Or whose latest album, The Great Enthusiasms – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises songs with titles taken from Richard Nixon quotes? Sam Bardfeld lifted most of those from Nixon’s resignation speech; it’s not likely that Trump, if in fact he ends up giving one, will be nearly as quotable. “Though Dick was a paranoid, hateful crook, there’s intelligence and complexity in him that one cannot imagine existing inside our current president. During this current dark stain in our country’s history, let’s continue to make weird, joyous art,’ Bardfeld encourages. He’s playing the album release show on Oct 5 at Cornelia Street Cafe, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

Most people know Bardfeld from his work with Springsteen, but his best material is his own. Bardfeld calls this trio project with the fantastic, lyrical pianist Kris Davis and drummer Michael Sarin his “weird Americana” album. Noir jazz is more like it.

How sarcastic is the opening track, Fails While Daring Greatly? The title is a Teddy Roosevelt quote that Nixon used when resigning, the song a distantly Romany swing-tinged number. Davis strolls uneasily while the bandleader swoops, shivers and scrapes with his signature, subtle, sardonic humor.

Resignation Rag is a surreal second-line march: Davis’ peevish insistence and Monkish loops are very funny, not just because they’re so far from her usual style. Bardfeld throws in a taunt or two as he takes the trio further and further outside to solo Davis contemplation, and a little twisted faux-barrelhouse.

A steady, uneasy violin solo opens Winner Image, Davis joining with cautious, starry chordlets, a troubled lullaby of sorts that grows more menacing as Bardfeld spins and slides and Davis takes a grimly gleaming stroll. Then they make a slow, enigmatic sway out of the Springsteen/Patti Smith hit Because the Night, which is barely recognizable, more Monk than late 70s CBGB powerpop. Davis’ eerie deep-sky solo is arguably the album’s high point, in contrast with the LMAO ending.

Listening to the album as sequenced, the title track is where it hits you that this is the great violin album that Monk never made, Davis the steady stalker as Bardfeld leaps and dances through funhouse mirror blues. Sarin’s subtle flickers and accents complete the carnivalesque tableau.

The trio do the Band’s King Harvest (Has Surely Come) as less dadrock than quasi-gospel, Bardfeld’s animated lines paired with Davis’ terse, gospel-infused groove. Bardfeld strums uneasy chords behind the funereal piano/drum atmospherics as The 37th Time I Have Spoken gets underway, interspersed with moments of sarcastic loopiness, frantic scurrying, and a burbling free interlude. One of the top ten jazz albums of the year so far, no question.

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October 2, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Greg Lewis Brings His Harrowing, Haunting, Elegaic New Protest Jazz Suite to Bed-Stuy

Greg Lewis is one of the world’s great jazz organists, best known as a radical reinterpreter of Thelonious Monk. But Lewis hardly limits himself to reinventing the classics. His latest album The Breathe Suite – streaming at Spotify – is just as radical, and arguably the most relevant jazz album released in the past several months. Lewis dedicates five of its six relentlessly dark, troubled movements to black Americans murdered by police. There’s never been an organ jazz album like this before: like Monk, Lewis focuses on purposeful, catchy melodies, heavy with irony and often unvarnished horror. If this isn’t the best album of 2017 – which it might well be – it’s by far the darkest. Lewis and his Organ Monk trio are making a rare, intimate Bed-Stuy appearance on August 26 at 8:30 PM at Bar Lunatico.

A long, astringently atmospheric intro with acidic, sustained Marc Ribot guitar gives way to a stark fanfare, much like something out of the recent Amir ElSaffar catalog, as the suite’s epic, nineteen-minute first movement, Chronicles of Michael Brown, gets underway. Lewis’ ominous, sustained chromatics introduce a slinky, moody nocturne with a cinematic sweep on par with Quincy Jones’ mid-60s film music, Reggie Woods’ bright tenor sax and Riley Mullins’ trumpet contrasting with a haunting undercurrent that drummer Nasheet Waits eventually swings briskly.  From there Lewis and Ribot edge it into  simmering soul, then Waits leads the drive upward to a harrowing machete crescendo. Lewis’ solo as the simmer returns is part blues, part carnivalesque menace. When the fanfare returns, jaggedly desperate guitar and drums circle around, Lewis diabolically channeling Louis Vierne far more than Monk.

The second, enigmatically shuffling second movement memorializes Trayvon Martin, Lewis alternating between Pictures At an Exhibition menace and a chugging drive as guitarist Ron Jackson’s flitting solo dances in the shadows. The third, Aiyana Jones’ Song eulogizes the seven-year-old Detroit girl gunned down in a 2010 police raid. It’s here that the Monk influence really comes through, in the tersely stepping central theme and Lewis’ creepy, carnivalesque chords as the piece sways along. The altered martial beats of drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons’ solo lead the band upward; it ends suddenly, unresolved, just like the murder – two attempts to bring killer Joseph Weekley to justice ended in mistrials.

The murder of Eric Garner- throttled to death by policeman Daniel Pantaleo in front of the Staten Island luxury condo building where he’d been stationed to drive away black people – is commemorated in the fourth movement. Awash in portentous atmospherics, this macabre tone poem veers in and out of focus, the horns reprising the suite’s somber fanfare, Jackson’s guitar circling like a vulture overhead, then struggling and shrieking as the organ and drums finally rise.

The fifth movement, Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers opens with a conversation between pensive organ and spiraling drums, then the band hits a brisk shuffle groove, horns and guitar taking turns building bubbling contrast to Lewis’ angst-fueled chordlets underneath. The final movement revisits the Ferguson murder of Michael Brown with an endless series of frantically stairstepping riffs, Lewis finally taking a grimly allusive solo, balmy soul displaced by fear. Fans of good-time toe-tapping organ jazz are in for a surprise and a shock here; this album will also resonate with fans of politically fearless composers and songwriters like Shostakovich and Nina Simone.

August 22, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steel Player Mike Neer Darkly Reinvents Thelonious Monk Classics

Any fan of western swing knows how cool a steel guitar can sound playing jazz. The great C&W pedal steel player Buddy Emmons knew something about that: back in the 70s, he recorded steel versions of famous Charlie Parker tunes. In that same vein, steel guitarist Mike Neer has just put out an even more deliciously warped, downright creepy, dare we say paradigm-shifting album of Thelonious Monk covers for lapsteel, wryly titled Steelonious and streaming at the band’s webpage. Neer’s playing the album release show on Jan 25 at 8 PM at Barbes. If you like Monk, steel, and/or darkly cinematic sounds in general, you’d be crazy to miss this.

The album opens with a tongue-in-cheek slide down the frets into a surf stomp, and the band is off into their tight version of Epistrophy, a devious mix of western swing, honkytonk and the Ventures. Neer is amped up with plenty of reverb and just a tad of natural distortion for extra bite. By contrast, he plays Bemsha Swing through a watery chorus effect against the low-key pulse of bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Diego Voglino as pianist Matt King stays in the background.

The rest of the album is a mix of iconic material and deeper cuts. In deference to the composer’s purist taste, King’s piano keeps things purposeful and bluesy, with the occasional hint of New Orleans. Neer’s take of Round Midnight echoes the Hawaiian sounds he played for so long, first with the Haoles and then the Moonlighters. In its own twisted way, this simmering quasi-bolero is closer to the spirit of the original than most straight-up jazz versions. It’s easy to imagine Beninghove’s Hangmen doing something as noir as this with it.

Likewise, In Walked Bud gets reinvented with all sorts of slinky bossa nova tinges, Tom Beckham’s echoey, bluesy vibraphone over lingering organ. If Neer’s version is historically accurate, Bud Powell wasn’t just crazy – this cat was scary!

Bye-Ya has more of a western swing feel, partially due to Neer’s droll, warpy tones. I Mean You positions Neer as bad cop against purist, good cop King. Putting organ on Off Minor was a genius move – what a creepy song! Voglino’s surf drums provide an almost gleeful contrast. In the same vein, the band does Ugly Beauty as a waltzing, noir organ theme, Neer’s menacing solo echoing Charlie Rouse’s sax on the original before veering back toward Bill Monroe territory.

It’s amazing how good a country ballad Ask Me Now makes; same deal with how well Blue Monk translates to proto-honkytonk. Straight No Chaser is so distinctive that there’s not a lot that can be done with it other than playing it pretty much as written, and the band keep their cards pretty close to the vest. But their starlit waltz version of Reflections is anything but trad: it’s sort of their Theme From a Summer Place. It’s awfully early in the year, and much as it might be cheating to pick a cover album, this is the frontrunner for best release of 2017 so far.

January 17, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkly Cinematic Pianist Romain Collin’s New Album Transcends Category

Pianist Romain Collin is one of those rare artists who can’t be pigeonholed. His music defies description. Much of it has the epic sweep and picturesque quality of film music, although his noir-tinged new album, Press Enter is not connected, at least at the moment, to any visual component other than your imagination. Some of it you could call indie classical, since there are echoes of contemporary composers throughout all but one of its ten tracks. And while it’s not jazz per se, it ends with a muted, wee hours solo piano street scene take of Thelonious Monk’s Round About Midnight. For those of you who might be in town over the Thanksgiving holiday, Collin and his long-running trio, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott are playing a three-night stand, November 27-29 at Iridium at 8:30 PM.Cover is $27.50.

The opening track, 99 (alternate title, at least from the mp3s this blog received: Bales of Pot). Is it a reggae number? Nope. It’s a brief series of variations on a tersely circling, Philip Glass-inspired theme. If Rick Wakeman could have figured out how to stay within himself after, say, 1973, he might have sounded something like this. Like Clockwork, true to its title, takes that motorik riff and then expands on it, with echoes of both Glass and Keith Jarrett, slowing it down for more of an anthemic sweep. It sets the stage for how Collin will use his trademark textures – acoustic piano echoed by very subtle electroacoustic textures, from simple reverb, to doubletracking on electric keys, to light ambient touches.

Raw, Scorched & Untethered actually comes across as anything but those things: it’s a stately, brooding quasi horror film theme that picks up with a jackhammer insistence, in the same vein as Clint Mansell might do. Cellist Laura Metcalf adds elegantly austere textures as she does in places here. Holocene hints that it’s going to simply follow a rather effete series of indie rock changes but then edges toward pensive pastoral jazz before rising with a catchy main-title gravitas and then moving lower into the reflecting pool again. The Kids circles back toward the opening track, but with a wry, Monkish sensibility (although that whistling is awful and really disrupts the kind of subtly amusing narrative Collin could build here without it).

The darkest, creepiest and most epic track is Webs, alternating between stormy menace and more morose foreshadowing over stygian, bell-like low lefthand accents. Another menacing knockout is Event Horizon, which eerily commenorates the eventual exoneration – courtesy of the Innocence Project – of seven wrongfully convicted men. Separating them, San Luis Obispo is an unexpected and pretty straight-up take of the old Scottish folk song Black Is the Color. Collin then reverts to no-nonsense macabre staccato sonics with The Line (Dividing Good and Evil). The album isn’t up at the usual places on the web, although there are three tracks streaming at ACT Records’ site, and Collin has an immense amount of eclectic material up at his Soundcloud page.

November 25, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-Register Richness from Charnett Moffett at Iridium

If bassist Charnett Moffett’s new solo album The Bridge – just out from Motema – is anything like his solo show last night at Iridium, it’s phenomenal. Solo bass concerts are rare – Jay Leonhart did a bunch of them around town a year ago. And as much as Moffett’s performance was a master class – he played enough tantalizing licks to fuel a year’s worth of shedding – it transcended the concept of a solo instrumental performance. It was just plain good music. Extended technique – and there was a lot of that, from slapping, to harmonics, to all kinds of subtle bowed tricks – took a backseat to melody and groove.

Moffett smartly kept the songs short, four minutes or considerably less. He related a wry encounter with an aging Charles Mingus, who gruffly encouraged him to “keep playing,” in every loaded sense of that phrase. So Moffett made the high point of his set a feral, ferocious arrangement of Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song that threatened to pop strings, a fang-baring, assaultive feast of chords and chromatics. He opened with an arrangement of Caravan that owed as much to the Ventures as to Ellington, simultaneously playing the Bob Bogle and Mel Taylor roles and made it look easy. He found the inner Strayhorn ballad in Sting’s Fragile (don’t laugh  – it was good) and bounced his bow jauntily off the strings on a triumphant take of his longtime bandmate Wynton Marsalis’ Black Guides, complete with a cresendoing call-and-response. Surprisingly, he kept the album’s title track – a haunting, Middle Eastern-tinged exploration – pretty close to the ground, as opposed to the searingly expansive version on the album.

A blues-infused mashup of Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho with an Adele pop hit became a launching pad for galloping, machinegunning staccato contrasting with austere, majestically spiritual motives, followed a little later by an alternately swinging and explosive Monk medley working increasingly intense, jackhammer permutations on Round Midnight, Well You Needn’t and Rhythm A Ning. As the show wound out, Moffett added a wah effect, most memorably on a starkly ethereal take of Miles’ All Blues. The set ended with Ray Brown’s Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, packed with keening harmonics, deft bowing, booming chords and a weary bluesiness that captured the song’s meaning as vividly as any ensemble of twenty players could have done. And Moffett has more solo shows coming up: he’s he’s at Birdland tonight at 6; April 14 he takes a bit of a break from the solo marathon with a duo gig backing devastatingly eclectic chanteuse/composer Jana Herzen at the Blue Note for a brunch show starting at half past noon. His “tour” of Manhattan venues winds up that night with the final solo gig at Joe’s Pub at 9 PM.

April 11, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting and Sunny Shades from Michael Gibbs and the NDR Bigband

Composer/arranger Michael Gibbs’ album Back in the Day with the NDR Bigband is a lush, richly eclectic, sometimes lurid collection of tracks recorded both live and in the studio at several sessions in 1995, 2002 and 2003. Gibbs conducts; the compositions here reflect his work as a film composer more than his fusion days in the early 70s. Although Gibbs’ long career, dating from the beginning of his association with Gary Burton in the 60s, encompasses a vast range of styles, the tracks here that resonate the most powerfully are the most Lynchian ones.

The album’s highlight is Jail Blues, a noir masterpiece, like a slow, symphonically arranged Bryan Beninghove number. Feite Felsch’s lurid alto sax weaves luridly over a marvelously creepy arrangement, Stephan Diez’ electric guitar adding doppler menace under the moody swells. The equally lush Antique punctuates Messianesque, sostenuto unease with shivery trumpet and an apprehensive Christof Lauer tenor sax solo over an almost rubato rhythm – it’s over too soon. Tennis, Anyone?, a wee hours mood piece, also sets Felsch’s brooding sostenuto lines against an uneasy Gil Evans-inspired backdrop. Round Midnight  takes its cue from the Evans arrangement but is more cinematic, less nebulous: if Miles’ big band recording was the definitive analog version, this is the digital one. And Back Where I Belong, by Bigband keyboardist Vladyslav Sendecki, also works a lustrous, pillowy angst jeweled with neat accents from the guitar and Sendecki’s own electric piano.

There’s lighter fare here as well. The inscrutably tuneful ballad With All Due Respect has Felsch working an incessant series of trick endings for all they’re worth. Billy Eckstine’s I Wanna Talk About You gets a lush slow drag rendition, Felsch taking his spirals to a logically carefree crescendo. June the 15th 1967, written for Burton, is a bulked-up New Orleans bounce as the Crusaders might have done it circa 1981.

Here’s That Rainy Day gets a jubilant oldschool arrangement, while Mosher, dedicated to Gibbs’ old bandmate Jimmy Mosher, works a warmly bluesy Miles/Gil ambience. And Gibbs’ old pal Burton is featured on three tracks here, including the lively opening and closing cuts, the latter being his old concert favorite Country Roads. It’s out now from Cuneiform.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlights of This Year’s Charlie Parker Festival

The way to approach the Charlie Parker Festival in its early years was to show up early, not only because Tompkins Square Park would be packed. If you were lucky, this being the pre-internet era, you’d find a flyer that would give you an idea of whether to spend the afternoon in the park or at Lakeside Lounge around the corner. Often the bill would be so good that the bar wouldn’t even be a consideration until after the show was over. Then the festival became a two-day thing that started uptown at Marcus Garvey Park, winding up the next day downtown, which was twice as cool – a whole weekend full of mostly top-level, big-name jazz, for free. But recent years have not been so kind. Last year’s initial slate was cancelled by Bloombergian edict in anticipation of a hurricane that mysteriously never arrived; the substitute lineup that the promoters cobbled together a few days later for a single Harlem show slipped under most everyone’s radar. This year’s festival continued a downward slide, mirrored by the size of the crowds. Although all the seats uptown were taken by mid-afternoon, downtown seemed to be more poorly attended than ever, no great surprise considering what the bill had to offer in terms of star power and otherwise. If Lakeside was still open, Sunday would have been about about 80% Lakeside and 20% festival.

But over the course of the weekend, there were plenty of memorable moments. Saturday’s bill began with drummer Jamire Williams’ quartet Erimaj. The only thing in their set that alluded to a past prior to about 1967 was a sample from Charlie Parker – who sounded long past his prime whenever the snippet happened to be recorded, Kris Bowers stepping on him with a beautifully lingering series of lyrical piano phrases as he’d continue to do alongside Williams, Vicente Archer on bass guitar, guitarist Matt Stevens on Les Paul and Jason Moran guesting on Rhodes on a funk number. The opening number, aptly titled Unrest, saw Williams rising from tense, portentous In a Silent Way atmospherics to an increasingly agitated state, pushed further in that direction by Bowers’ elegantly biting phrases and Stevens’ crying single-note accents. From there they segued into a radically reinvented, basically rubato take on Ain’t Misbehaving, with fractured lyrics delivered haphazardly by the bandleader as he created a snowy swirl with his hardware, Bowers moving to Rhodes for a bubbly two-chord vamp out. Moran then came up to take over the Rhodes on a steadily paced funk number that evoked the Jazz Crusaders right before they dropped the “jazz.” Stevens’ Choosing Sides set a potently crescendoing, anthemic rock tune to a trickier tempo, then the guitarist went off on a long, meandering tangent, playing endless permutations off a single string in the same vein as 90s indie rock stoners like Thinking Fellers Union. Sometimes rock and jazz are like the sheep and the wolf that you’re trying to ferry across the river along with the lettuce. This was one of those case where the boat wouldn’t hold all three, with predictable results. They went back to the pretty straight-up, echoey Rhodes funk to close it out with an amiably energetic groove.

After a set of standards and soul hits by chanteuse Rene Marie and her trio, a well-liked local attraction, 87-year-old drummer Roy Haynes practically skipped to the front of the stage. Playing with the vigor of a man half his age and working the crowd for all it was worth, he took his time getting going, choosing his spots, leaving all kinds of suspenseful spaces for the Fountain of Youth Band: Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Martin Bejerano on piano and a bassist who took considerably fewer chances than his bandmates. It didn’t take long for Haynes and Bejerano to engage in clenched-teeth polyrhythms, the pianist quoting Brubeck’s Camptown Races and then Monk, Shaw – who rose gracefully to the impossible task of filling Charlie Parker’s shoes alongside Bird’s old drummer – weaving his way expertly into a climactic series of trills.

Haynes is the prototype for guys like Tyshawn Sorey, who rather than banging a beat out of the kit, let the sound rise from within: his big, boomy sonics bely the fact that he’s actually not wailing all that hard. That became key to a long, stunningly energetic solo that Haynes eventually used for comic relief as he spun in his seat, dashing from tom to tom, telling the crowd that, no, it wasn’t over yet and he’d let them know when it was. They did a couple of pretty ballads, the second, Springtime in New York rising to a brisk latin pulse, Shaw finally cutting loose with a raw shriek after playing steady, thoughtfully bright bop lines all afternoon, Bejerano taking it back down into darker modal territory before a brief duel with Shaw and a clever series of false endings. All that made their blithe, carefree, casually allusive take on Ornithology seem almost like an afterthought.

Opening Sunday’s festivities with a trio set featuring bassist Philip Kuehn and drummer Kassa Overall, Sullivan Fortner made no attempt to bond with the crowd; he let them come to him. And they did, throughout an enigmatic, introverted, quietly fascinating set. From the still, meditative solo introduction to Thelonious Monk’s I Need You So, the pianist – best known at this point for his work with Roy Hargrove – reinvented it as a tone poem, taking his time building it with stately clusters and big banks of block chords. As he would do throughout the show, Fortner turned the tune over to Kuehn early on, who responded simply and effectively, a potently melodic foil to Fortner’s nebulous sostenuto. An original, Purple Circles built from a similar atmospheric backdrop to hints of a jazz waltz and then samba, once again putting the bass front and center for a long, incisive solo. They took the old standard Star Eyes from rubato expansiveness to a casual bounce, up and then down again. From there they picked up the pace and swung, took a memorable diversion into a beautiful ballad (anybody know what that one was?) and closed with a original that pretty much summed up the set, Overall’s animated swing and Kuehn’s sometimes incisive, sometimes hypnotic pulse walking a tightrope between contrast and seamlessness with Fortner’s opaquely lit chromatics.

And that was pretty much it for Sunday. There was poetry – really, really bad poetry, which no jazz could redeem. There was one of those selfconsciously fussy, arty bands, there was a crooner, and also Patience Higgins and the Sugar Hill Quartet, who excel at what they do – but where they excel the most is on their home turf, after the sun goes down, where it’s a lot easier to get close to the stage and feed off their oldschool energy. At times like this Lakeside becomes even more sorely missed.

August 28, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orrin Evans’ New Trio Album Is One of the Year’s Best

Pianist Orrin Evans has been on a creative rampage lately. Recorded at a single marathon session at a Brooklyn studio this past February, his latest album Flip the Script, a trio project with Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards behind the kit, does exactly that. It’s his most straightforward album under his own name (to distinguish his small-group work from his role as conductor/pianist with his mighty jazz orchestra the Captain Black Big Band.) To steal a phrase from the JD Allen fakebook (a guy Evans has worked with, memorably), this is jukebox jazz: roughly four-minute, terse, wickedly tuneful, relentlessly intense compositions. For lack of a better word, this is deep music, full of irony and gravitas but also wit. Evans’ work has always been cerebral: to say whether or not this is his most emotionally impactful recording depends on how much Captain Black makes you sweat.

Question, by bassist Eric Revis, opens the album with a relentless unease that will pervade much of what’s to come, the rhythm section walking furiously against an evil music-box riff from the piano: the way Evans shadows Wolfe as the bassist pulls away from the center and then returns is one of the album’s many high points and will have you reaching for the repeat button. The first Evans composition here, Clean House, works gravely bluesy modalities into a dark Philly soul melody: the trio’s simple, direct rhythmic rhythmic insistence on the third verse is a clinic in hard-hitting teamwork. With its apprehensive chromatics, the title track has echoes of Frank Carlberg, Edwards coloring it with counterintuitive accents and the occasional marauding, machinegunning phrase as much as he propels it, something he does throughout the album: fans of Elvin Jones or Rudy Royston will eat this up. The quietly imploring, spaciously Shostakovian minimalism of When makes quite a contrast: Evans’ coldly surreal, starlit moonscape could be Satoko Fujii.

A phantasmagorical blues, Big Small balances slyness against gravitas, Wolfe turning in a potently minimalist solo as he builds to quietly boomy chords against the drums, Evans offering hope of a resolution but then retracts it as the mysterioso ambience returns. The piano’s relentless interpolations build to an artful clave rumble by Edwards and then a false ending on a bracingly chromatic reinvention of Luther Vandross’ A Brand New Day, while TC’s Blues, a diptych, morphs from loungey swing to expansive, allusively shadowy modalities that give Edwards a platform to whirl and rumble on. They follow that with an unexpectedly brooding take on Someday My Prince Will Come, then go back to the originals with The Answer, a clever, considerably calmer response to the Revis tune

The album ends with The Sound of Philadelphia, Evans’ hometown. But this isn’t happy tourists gathered around a bicentennial Liberty Bell: it’s a vacant industrial lot in north Philly next to a diner that’s been closed for years and a house that may or may not have people in it. Evans strips Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s jovial Philly soul tune to the bone, slows it down, takes every bit of bounce out and adds a menacing turnaround. It’s a quietly crushing way to bring this powerful creation to a close. Count this among the half-dozen best jazz albums to come over the transom so far this year, another major contribution from the Posi-Tone label.

July 6, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who Says Club Owners Can’t Play?

Most club owners who play music usually suck at it. The reason many of them open a venue is to have a place to play since nobody else will give them a gig. But once in awhile, you find a club owner who not only isn’t an atrocity exhibition, but actually has talent. Case in point: pianist Spike Wilner, impresario of Smalls, the well-loved downtown New York jazz institution. Wilner has a vivid, impressionistic third-stream style that draws as deeply on ragtime as it does on classic jazz, and on his latest album La Tendresse – out now from Posi-Tone – there are some genuinely breathtaking moments. He’s got a fast, liquid legato that can keep up with pretty much anybody in either jazz or classical, something he proved beyond reproach on his previous solo album, recorded live at the club. Here, his ragtime roots are in equally full effect: he covers Solace, and while he doesn’t try to put an original stamp on Scott Joplin, he also doesn’t embarrass himself. And the album gets even better from there.

He opens the title track, one of three original compositions here, with a rather stern passage featuring a lot of block chords that slowly develop outward into shuffling ripples that grow unexpectedly chilly and chromatic: if this is tenderness, then tenderness is scary. The second original, Silver Cord, also works a neoromantic vibe, slowly unwinding from tensely rhythmic to more cantabile, with a bit of wry Donald Fagen in the chords toward the end. Wilner reinvents Leonard Cohen’s – woops, Irving Berlin’s Always as a jazz waltz, building intensity with a delightfully vivid, ringing series of raga-like chords. He puts his own mark on Lullaby of the Leaves slowly and methodically, solo, from an expansive rubato intro, to a casual ragtime-fueled stroll and a playful classic rock quote at the end. Then he, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Joey Saylor – who stay within themselves as supporting players throughout the album – scurry their way through a lickety-split take of After You’ve Gone, a showcase for sizzling, precise chops.

A couple of other tracks are far more pensive, notably purist takes on Ellington’s Le Sucrier Velours and Monk’s Crepuscule with Nellie, along with a nocturnally bluesy, wee-hours version of Richard Rodgers’ Little Girl Blue. I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together gets a skeletal, practically minimalist interpretation that’s over all too soon in well under three minutes. There are a couple of short tracks here that could have been left on the cutting room floor and the album wouldn’t be any worse for it, especially a song from the Wizard of Oz, that – it’s awfully hard to resist a bad pun here – if they’d only had a clue, would have given up trying to redeem as ragtime. Speaking of the Wiz, there are several other quotes here from that soundtrack that are as mystifying as the inclusion of that particular cut. Otherwise, this is something that ought to bring together fans of ragtime, jazz and the Romantic repertoire, who will probably unanimously enjoy a collection by a musician who probably doesn’t need any more fans (club owners always draw hugely at their gigs, if only because the artists they book make sure to come out and be seen there) but deserves them anyway.

June 15, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Wild Celebration of 25 Years of Jazz at the New School

The New School’s jazz program turned 25 this year: to celebrate, they threw an eclectic, often transcendent bash last night featuring a mix of jazz legends, alumni, faculty and students, a younger generation practically jumping out of their socks to be playing with icons, the veterans just as psyched to be up there with what could be the next generation of jazz greats. The premise of the night – other than to get more than three hours’ worth of enticing video for students who might be vaccillating between jazz programs – was a tribute to former faculty members Frank Foster and Benny Powell. For whatever reason, the program ended up having more to do with Dizzy Gillespie than the Basie connection those two shared for decades. But what’s unplanned is almost always why jazz is so much fun.

The Foster/Powell tribute kicked off with a blistering version of Foster’s Manhattan Madness. Reggie Workman, as shrewd an observer of talent as there is, introduced the band and told everyone to keep an eye out for pianist Martha Kato, a student. He was right on the money about her: fearless when it came to mining the lowest registers for magisterial power, she showed off a crystalline, bluesy purism that made a perfect match alongside a mix of alums and faculty: Kenyatta Beasley (who conducted the ensemble) ; Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet; Arun Luthra,  Keith Loftis and the Cookers’ Billy Harper on saxes; Christopher Stover on trombone; Rory Stuart and Mike Moreno on guitars; Josh Ginsburg on bass; and the Yellowjackets’ Marcus Baylor clattering up a storm on drums. Their take on a series of swing, Afro-Cuban and bossa nova themes reveled in the tunefulness that defined Foster’s repertoire.

The night’s single most transcendent moment was a rich, gospel-infused blues duet between pianist Junior Mance and violinist Michi Fuji. The two play together in Mance’s trio and share a finely attuned chemistry, Fuji adding an element of mystery with judiciously placed glissandos, Mance mimicking Fuji’s attack with some unexpected flutters of his own before returning to an otherworldly glimmer. The two were done all too soon. Mance plays with his trio most Sundays at Cafe Loup on 13th just west of 6th Ave. in case you might need more of him.

Close behind was an expansive, high-energy yet richly dynamic “trumpet battle” led by the great Jimmy Owens in tandem with Bridgewater, a tribute to Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Gillespie, Thad Jones and also Thelonious Monk. Owens’ straight-ahead, often slyly witty style paired off with Bridgewater’s artfully ornamented attack; Bridgewater’s decision to do Clifford Brown’s Dahoud as a subdued, plaintive ballad was shatteringly successful. Again, it was a student, bassist Tony Lannen, who held the crowd rapt with both his wit – it takes nerve to punctuate your first solo of the night with a joke and make it resound like he did – and then a bristlingly precise, rapidfire spot later on which he played entirely with his bow. Meanwhile, Winard Harper put on a clinic in joyous, counterintuitive, latin-tinged beats: when he finally got a solo, it was all avant garde sticks and hardware and rims, and yet purist in a way that drew a straight line back to Elvin Jones. At one point, Owens wanted to take it all the way down to just his horn, but pianist JoAnne Brackeen wasn’t looking up: she’d become one with the resonant sheets of Monk she was playing at that point. Another up-and-coming talent, Alejandro Berti, joined in a genially crescendoing round-robin of trumpets to wind up the set on a literally high note.

For the night’s second duet, faculty pianist Andy Milne joined forces with Swiss harmonicist Gregoire Maret for a radical, slowly unwinding, atonalist reinterpretation of Body and Soul. The night ended on with the more traditionally ecstatic sounds of the Eyal Vilner Big Band, first backing nonagenarian tenor player Frank Wess and then fellow tenor legend Jimmy Heath, who’s five years his junior. Wess embodied pure soul, matched nuance to energy and got two standing ovations out of it; Heath, eternally youthful, refused to take a seat, cheered on his new bandmates – Mike McGarill, Tom Abbott, Lucas Pino, Asaf Yuria and big baritone guy Jason Marshall on saxes; the explosive Cameron Johnson and Takuya Kuroda on trumpet; Ivan Malespin and John Mosca on trombones; Yonatan Riklis on piano and Mike Karn on bass, with drummer Joe Strasser showing off a nimble originality matched to a power that never quite exploded – clearly, he was feeling the room and played to it perfectly. Chanteuse Brianna Thomas – whom none other than Will Friedwald has anointed as arguably the new generation’s finest straight-ahead jazz singer – joined them and battled a nonresponsive PA to put her message of sass and style across vividly in a rousing take of Lover, Come Back to Me. Otherwise, Vilner’s arrangements of Bud Powell (a potently percussive Un Poco Loco) and Diz nimbly articulated voices throughout the ensemble, Vilner himself taking the occasionally understated bluesy solo spots on alto sax. When they closed with what sounded like a Gillespie reworking of a Louis Jordan jump blues, Heath grinned and looked on deviously before choosing his spot to join in the raucous riffage as it wound out. It was something of a shock to see a handful of empty seats: concerts with the sheer magnitude of this one don’t come along every day.

The New School may not have weekly concerts like they had back in the early days, but those they do have tend to be extraordinary: both Marc Ribot (with his noir soundtrack project) and Ethiopian jazz masters Either/Orchestra have delivered equally sensational concerts here in recent months, something to keep in mind if you’re looking for major live jazz events percolating just under the radar.

April 26, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment