Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Iconic, Haunting Jazz Guitarist Bill Frisell Plays a Rare Duo Show in Brooklyn

Bill Frisell’s first album as a bandleader was just guitar and bass (and lots of overdubs). Who knew that this era’s preeminent jazz guitarist would ever revisit that format? Almost thirty-five years later, the bassist is Thomas Morgan, and the album, Small Town, is a live recording from the Village Vanguard from just a few months ago It’s hard to hear online, but you can catch the two when they make a relatively rare Brooklyn appearance at Roulette on June 30 at 8. Advance tix are just $20, and having seen Frisell in this particular borough, it’s not a safe bet to assume that the show won’t sell out.

The first track is an eleven-minute version of Paul Motian’s Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago. Resonant, starry, minimalist motives give way to a distantly ominous big-sky theme spiced with wispy harmonics and Morgan’s lurking presence. A wistful waltz develops and is then subsumed by  brooding pedalpoint with stark gospel allusions as Frisell builds a hypnotic web of contrapuntal loops. If this doesn’t end up in a Twin Peaks episode, that would be criminal.

The two make a briskly caravanning stroll out of Lee Konitz’s Subconscious Lee, threatening to take it down into the depths but never completely submerging. Morgan hangs back and punches in gingerly throughout most of the spacious, uneasy ballad Song for Andrew No. 1 (an Andrew Cyrille shout-out). Referneces to a famously infirm New Orleans funeral tune flicker amidst Frisell’s lingering single-note lines as he waits til the very end to go for the macabre.

He does Wildwood Flower a lot – this one offers genially blithe, bluegrassy contrast and some neatly understated counterpoint between the two musicians. 

The title track expands on the old Scottish folk tune Wild Mountain Thyme, Frisell finally flinging some noir and some wryly muted surf riffs into the purposeful, steady walk as Morgan straddles the same thin grey line. After that, the two pulse their way mutedly through Fats Domino’s What a Party; which sounds a lot more like the old folk song Shortnin’ Bread. Ironically, it’s the most pastoral track here – hearing Morgan toss off a handful of C&W guitar licks on his bass is a trip.

Poet – Pearl is a diptych. Morgan shifts around with a pensive incisiveness in the upper midrange, as he usually does throughout the set while Frisell plays a gently tremoloing lullaby of sorts. then the two follow the night’s most divergent courses, segueing into the lone Morgan composition here, a bittersweetly catchy jazz waltz where the bassist finally gets to carry the melody. The last song of the set is a spare, lowlit, increasingly desolate take of the Goldfinger theme that leaves no doubt that it’s about a spy. At the end, Frisell turns it into the old blues lament Baby Please Don’t Go.

Where does this rank in the Frisell pantheon? Maybe not on the towering, harrowing noir pinnacle with, say, 2007’s History, Mystery but it’s close. You’ll see this on a whole lot of best-of-2017 lists, not just here, at the end of the year.

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June 28, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jen Shyu Debuts Her Spellbinding, Relevant New Suite at Roulette

Ultimately, Jen Shyu‘s mission is to break down cultural barriers and unite people. In her own work, the singer/multi-instrumentalist has assimilated an astonishing number of styles, both from her heritage – Taiwan and East Timor – as well as from Korea, Indonesia, China and the United States, among other places around the world. Last night at Roulette she celebrated her birthday by unveiling a bracingly dynamic, otherworldly surrealistic, envelopingly beautiful new suite, Song of Silver Geese, a characteristically multilingual work combining the strings of the Mivos Quartet as well as vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s Jade Tongue ensemble with violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Dan Weiss and flutist Anna Webber.

Shyu opened with a series of judicious plucks on her Korean gayageum lute, then switched to piano, Taiwanese moon lute and eventually a small Indonesian gong. Throughout the roughly hourlong piece, dancer Satoshi Haga struck dramatic poses when he wasn’t moving furtively or tiptoeing in the background when the music reached a lull.

The storyline, according to the program notes, involves the interaction between two characters from Timorese and Korean folklore, both known for their disguises, in addition to an iconic Taiwanese freedom fighter and a Javanese schoolgirl who was tragically orphaned at age six in a car accident.

Spare exchanges between the strings and the gayageum grew to an uneasy lustre evocative of 80s serialism, Cellist Mariel Roberts’ wounded, ambered lines eventually giving way to sinister microtones from Maneri. Shyu’s switch to the moon lute signaled a long upward climb through a dreamlike sequence punctuated by Weiss’ increasingly agitated rumble and the flutter of the strings, texturally ravishing yet troubled.

Shyu’s uncluttered vocals were just as dynamic, ranging from a whisper, to an imploring, angst-fueled Carol Lipnik-like delivery, to an insistent, earthy, shamanistic growl and pretty much everywhere in between. The big coda, seemingly meant to illustrate the fatal crash, built to a pandemonium that came as a real shock in view of the lustre and glistening atmospherics that had been lingering up to that point.

The performance ended with the ensemble members performing a candle ceremony of sorts and then walking out through the audience as Shyu sang a mantra: “I am alone, but not lonely; Life has no boundaries when every place can be home.” Something for everybody in the audience to take home.

Shyu’s next performance features another premiere,of a dance piece at 7 PM on April 21 at the Czech Center, 321 E 73rd St. Those who were lucky enough to catch this performance would probably also enjoy the concert of rare, delicately haunting folk music from Amami Island, Japan, played by Anna Sato and Shogo Yashi at Roulette on May 14 at 8. Tix are $25/$21 stud/srs.

March 29, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Weekend Jazz Gallery Stand and a Killer, Funny New Album by the Dan Weiss Large Ensemble

Drummer-led bands tend to be excellent. And they should be. Good drummers are more in demand than any other musicians: consequently, they tend to have enormous address books. So it was hardly difficult for Dan Weiss to pull together his Large Ensemble, which includes singers Jen Shyu and Judith Berkson, harpist Katie Andrews, bassist Thomas Morgan, alto saxophonist David Binney, tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor, guitarist Miles Okazaki, pianists Jacob Sacks and Matt Mitchell, trombonists Jacob Garchik and Ben Gerstein,

Their latest album Sixteen: Drummers Suite (due out momentarily from Pi Recordings, hence no streaming link yet) celebrates the work of some of the greatest names in jazz drumming, with original conpositions springboarding off a series of the bandleader’s favorite riffs from across the ages. It’s an awful lot of fun. The band moves between jaunty interplay, frequent droll/serioso contrasts and playful echo phrases, relying heavily on Shyu and Berkson’s ghost-girl vocalese. It’s indie classical with more complex rhythms and what sounds like purposeful improvisation, although it could be completely composed. The AACM’s album with Fontella Bass could be an influence. Weiss and the group are celebrating the album’s release with a weekend stand, sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM on February 12-13 at the Jazz Gallery. Cover is $22

Weiss kicks off the album solo with a terse series of licks that the ensemble will build on later. The compositions’ titles all refer to iconic jazz drummers: Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones and so on. The arrangements very seldom have the full orchestra going all at once, instead relying on momentary handoffs, slowly rising trajectories and frequent pairings or conversations. Those can be downright hilarious. The interlude during Max where it sounds like John Zorn doing P-Funk, Weiss’ abrupt WTF reaction to increasingly cacaphonous sax chatter in Tony and the many, many, many trick endings in Philly Joe are some of the best. There are plenty more.

In their most hectic moments, the band evoke the Claudia Quintet on crank; in their most ornately lustrous, Karl Berger joining forces with Roomful of Teeth. Most of the seven tracks here are partitas, shifting completely from one theme to a seemingly unrelated one. Although the segues are a little off-kilter, the music is consistently interesting. Elvin has jaunty wafts of vocalese from Shyu to Berkson and come-hither fingersnaps. Max features tongue-in-cheek juxtapositions between faux-metal fuzzbox guitar and Berkson’s arioso vocalese…and then takadimi drum language taking over in the drollery department.

For all its hijinks, the creepy piano riffage early on in Tony foreshadows a lot of what’s to come. There are echoes of Missy Mazzoli in a rare carefree mood throughout the vocal swoops and dives in Philly Joe. Klook features an enigmatic, starlit interlude amidst its circling, indie classical-influenced riffage, as does Ed. That passage is a stark, desolate one with acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and tinkly piano, straight out of the Iron Maiden playbook. Even for those who don’t get all the references and insider jokes here, this is still an awfully fun ride.

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

Samuel Blaser Pushes the Envelope, As Usual

Jazz trombonist Samuel Blaser has been on a creative tear lately. His absolutely gorgeous third-stream Consort in Motion album with the late, great Paul Motian on drums plus Russ Lossing on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass was one of those records which should have been on our best-of-2011 list but got cut since it had already received so much good press elsewhere. If the idea of otherworldly jazz improvisations on vivid Renaissance themes by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Marini strikes you as intriguing, the album is that and much more, minutes of exquisite beauty matched by Lossing’s sepulchral, austerely glimmering, sometimes chillingly apprehensive piano and Motian’s suspenseful clouds of cymbals alongside Blaser’s purist melodicism and occasional good humor.

Blaser also has two other albums out which sound absolutely nothing like that. The first, issued last September (and also available on limited edition vinyl!), is Just Observing, credited to “three-piece brass band” La Fanfare du Porc, an irrepressibly comedic, often wickedly catchy live set on the Moisturizer or Ilhan Ersahin tip with Blaser alongside bass clarinetist Lucien Dubuis and drummer Luigi Galati. Blaser isn’t afraid to go for laughs, and neither is Dubuis, spiraling and skronking over a boogie, several shuffles, dixieland and funk beats, with droll Spokes-like counterpoint and tongue-in-cheek Gypsy Schaeffer-ish diversions, on songs with titles like In the Shower and The Olive with Variable Geometrics. If you ever wondered how well a trombone could mimic hip-hop-style turntable scratching, this is the album for you.

Notwithstanding the beauty and brilliance of Consort in Motion, the most fascinating of all of these albums is last October’s release of Boundless, a 2010 live recording of free improvisations with Blaser accompanied by Marc Ducret on guitar, Banz Oester on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Done as a lavish four-part suite, it’s hard to believe that virtually all of this is an expansive, thoughtfully paced one-chord jam. Cleaver methodically builds six-foot snowbanks with the swirls from his cymbals as Ducret alternates between long sustained tones, skronk and the occasional, savagely understated, distortion-toned attack, Blaser and Oester taking turns holding the center. The quartet calmly navigate their way from warm permutations on a characteristically vivid Blaser riff, through a long (seventeen-minute) suspense interlude with Ducret masterfully shadowing Blaser, through tense, agitated noir atmospherics fueled by Blaser’s chromatics, to a conclusion with murky echoes of dub reggae. The chemistry and interplay has a singleminded focus, and for free jazz, it’s remarkably tuneful. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what Blaser comes up with next – one thing’s for certain, which is that whatever it is, it’ll be fascinating to hear.

January 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky

This is what free jazz ought to sound like. While there’s definitely plenty of composition here, there’s also an extraordinary amount of listening and the smart, thoughtful playing that good musicians do when they’re all tuned into each other. Trombonist Samuel Blaser leads the crew and gets extra props for putting this particular unit together. This is one of those albums that the drummer absolutely owns: Tyshawn Sorey rumbles underneath, methodically like a subway (by turns a steady local train, a work train inching by or an occasional express roaring along) as guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Thomas Morgan add shade and color in a stunning display of minimalist precision. No wasted notes here!

Blaser gets the over seventeen-minute title track to work off a stately, thoughtful five-note riff punctuated by stillness and deftly placed accents by Neufeld and Morgan. As with the rest of the tracks here, there’s more following and echoing than there is actual interplay, the musicians taking turns building off a minute, intricate phrase, almost a contest where the winner is he who can say the most with the least. Which with generally quiet music is an admirable goal. On this song, guitar and then bass maintain suspense two steps behind the beat, which at a lento crawl is a lot harder than it sounds. Blaser’s unexpectedly triumphant windup to the song actually adds an undercurrent of unease (that device will recur later to rousing effect).

The second cut, Red Hook scurries without actually scurrying – Blaser’s trombone runs it alone as the rhythm section stays terse and deliberate with vivid washes of sound from Neufeld’s guitar. They follow it with the pensive, plaintive Choral I (which they return to as a concluding theme), and then the aptly titled Mystical Circle, Blaser remaining defiantly casual, even out-of-focus throughout a series of methodical descending progressions. The dark, murky, minor-key Mandala is nothing short of phantasmagorical; by contrast, Speed Game is tongue-in-cheek, more a series of relays than any kind of sprint. This quiet, deft display of talent is nothing short of a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of 2009.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jacam Manricks – Labyrinth

As has been observed here before, the newly renascent trend of augmenting a jazz group with a string section is a particularly welcome development – let’s hope more artists discover what Miles and Gil Evans knew decades ago. On this new album, saxophonist/composer/educator Jacam Manricks is the latest to utilize the approach, very innovatively and successfully. His inspirations come from all over – it’s obvious that he’s listened widely. With a forty-piece chamber orchestra featured on several of the tracks along with an inspired quintet including Manricks on saxes and flute, Jacob Sacks (of the excellent White Rocket) on piano, Ben Monder on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, the melodies here are strong, taking on an even greater intensity with the lushness of the arrangements.

On the cd’s opening cut, Portal, Sacks improvises upper-register rivulets as Manricks’ sax builds to a buoyant crescendo, the melody a variation on a Debussy theme. Microgravity begins gently, then the strings build over a martial beat evocative of Sketches of Spain (a motif that will recur even more evocatively later on). The orchestra swirls around behind a brightly reverberating Monder solo…and then a four-note pizzicato string motif echoes an earlier Manricks riff. Eerily ambient strings and sax end it on a suspenseful note. The title track builds on stately, sparse low-register piano intervals (fourths and seconds), much in the style of what Herbie Hancock and his contemporaries were doing in the late 60s, drums following and playing off the piano beat as Manricks adds balmy color.

The fourth track, Move has a pensive, tropical feel with acoustic guitar and soprano sax, down to an expressive, somewhat tense piano solo, Manricks maintaining the downcast intensity as the rhythm grows more complex.  Cloisters, a somewhat epic number inspired by the popular uptown New York pre-Renaissance art museum/date spot and its lush, green surroundings, works around a bright, joyful theme – the bus has finally reached the end of the line, yay! With Aeronautics, the piano feels around as Manricks establishes the mood, glimmering quietly, through a Monder solo and then some of Manricks’ most poignant work here. March and Combat begins as an overt Sketches of Spain homage, its second half a pulsing Ravel Bolero-inspired chart. Aptly titled, the album’s concluding cut, Rothko is a hypnotic, static tone poem. This album is both cutting-edge and memorably tuneful – these are songs that will run through your head as you walk down the street. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment