Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.

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April 25, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warren Wolf’s New Album Mixes It Up Memorably

Jazz vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s latest album, a self-titled effort which serves as his Mack Avenue debut, gets more interesting the more you hear it. It alternates boisterous Friday night saloon tunes with some surprisingly intense ballads, as well as a shapeshifting solo workout – on both vibraphone and marimba – on Chick Corea’s Señor Mouse. Wolf’s supporting cast is characteristically first-class – longtime influence/mentor/bandmate Christian McBride on bass, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Peter Martin on piano along with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Tim Green on alto and soprano sax.

The opening cut, 427 Mass Ave. (the address of Boston jazz hotspot Wally’s Cafe) is a cleverly camouflaged blues with a sprightly bounce and bright solo spots for Pelt, for Green’s alto, an exuberant sprint from the bandleader himself and then McBride, who finally can’t resist getting caught up in the moment. Then they get quiet with Natural Beauties, a gentle but matter-of-fact ballad, Wolf taking it up a notch and then turning it over to a geninely tender Green soprano sax solo. Sweet Bread is a briskly pulsing, catchy postbop swing tune, horns taking turns in a tug-of-war with piano and vibes. Then they go back down with the brooding How I Feel at This Given Moment , Wolf edging toward noir the first time around, more relaxed the second, with Martin echoing him. It’s as if the two came into the bar stressed, has a couple of drinks and suddenly concluded that the world doesn’t look so bad

Eva is a hot little number, briskly swinging with wary chromatics, vivid pointillisms from Wolf and matter-of-fact buoyancy from Green’s alto. Best known as a Bill Evans tune, the version of Emily here gets a late 70s soul/pop tinge done. They follow that with the most potent song here, Katrina, a sad, bitter New Orleans nocturne that turns funky and even creepier for a bit before heading into swing with some memorably rapidfire staccato Wolf phrasing.

One for Lenny is a full-throttle showstopper dedicated to their Boston drummer friend Lenny Nelson, who’s known for speed. They juxtapose that one with the slowest tune here, Martin’s Intimate Dance, a jazz waltz. One especially notable feature is that maybe due to the presence of McBride, the production here gives the low end a little boost of fatness which makes a great contrast with the ringing highs of the vibes. This album ought to draw a big crowd of fans who like their jazz vivid and tuneful. Wolf will be at the Vanguard later this year with McBride’s Inside Straight, a crew whose shows this year have validated their reputation for vigor and entertainment.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plunge Gets Lowdown and Fun

File this under “fun jazz.” A band whose main instruments include trombone, bass and sousaphone leaves a lot of room for comedy, and that’s exactly what New Orleans trio Plunge offer on their psychedelic, entertaining new album Tin Fish Tango. The album title evokes a submarine: the songs manuever deviously more than engaging in any kind of combat. Despite having no drums, the trio of trombonist Mark McGrain, bassist James Singleton and saxophonist Tim Green along with Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor sax and Kirk Joseph on sousaphone maintain a tight groove, and a sensibility that’s often strikingly minimalist. There are a lot of passages here featuring just one instrument, and they’re sort of the opposite of hard bop: each player seems to want to do the most with the least. Since they’re a New Orleans band, the compositions here frequently, but not always, evoke Crescent City style themes. There’s a lot of conversing, some lead-and-pitch, and frequent quotes, from the Skatalites to the Beatles, to raise the amusement factor.

The opening track, a minimalist reggae tune, is a study in divergence and convergence while the bass holds the beat steady, a device that will recur here frequently. The most traditional, and arguably best track here, is Big Bang Theory, which rather than being explosive is a jauntily catchy late 50s Miles Davis style tune: to call this the best song on the album is not to be disrespectful to the cleverness or originality of the other material here, it’s just the most cohesive and memorable cut. The aptly titled Huff-A-Round is a clinic in three-part harmony writing; Pelican Jam, one of several free improvisations here, is done as a sort of suite of miniatures, the band members taking turns introducing themes that sometimes grab hold but just as often disappear from view.

The blithe shuffle Life Lite starts out upbeat and hangs onto the groove even as it drifts off into mellowness after a tastily bright soprano sax solo from Green. He goes off on a Middle Eastern tangent on another reggae-tinged tune, Bright Side and then goes soaring and expansive on The Kroop, over Singleton’s hard-hitting bass chords. There’s also the methodically shifting segments of Love’s Wildest Talent (?!?), the artfully syncopated funk of Jougs and a blues that starts out tense and warms up fast to wind up the album. Their previous album, reviewed last year here, was good: this is even better.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Plunge – Dancing on Thin Ice

From New Orleans comes this fun, delightfully smart, somewhat minimalist trio groove jazz project. Plunge doesn’t have a drummer, so bassist James Singleton has to propel the unit by all by himself and does a great job. He swings like crazy and when he cuts loose once in awhile he’s still got a strong grip on the throttle. Composer Mark McGrain uses the full range of his trombone, judiciously, while saxophonist Tim Green adds a wise, knowing, bluesy soulfulness. What hits you right off the bat is what a good time these guys are obviously having – while they’re adding an interesting, original edge to a whole bunch of different styles, this isn’t just art for art’s sake. You can hum along to literally everything here.

The cd’s first track, Friday Night at the Top is a hypnotic groove –  Singleton runs a sinuous bass riff while Green and then McGrain prowl around. The second cut, Life of a Cipher is a slinky spy theme with a rhumba pulse – toward the end Singleton breaks out his bow and delivers some eerie funk while the horns hold down the hook. Yet another groove number, Orion Rising has Singleton walking it with effortless ease while McGrain and then Green offer completely different witness accounts of what’s going on.

On the sludgy Luminata No 257, Singleton holds it down with his bow as the horns take turns peeking up the periscope. The unabashedly silly One Man’s Machine sounds like a P-Funk b-side instrumental, the guys caught unawares messing around with the bass synthesizer. The title track is joyous, bouncy N’Awlins flavor stripped to just the basics, gets woozy and then comes out of it with a bass solo of all things. With a straight-up oldschool southern vibe, the single most striking track here is the gorgeous, pensive jazz waltz Missing Mozambique. The cd’s two concluding cuts maintain that feel, like the nucleus of a second-line band working the subtle underpinnings of what would otherwise be blazing marches. Marketed as a crossover electronic project, the effects on the album are happily limited to the occasional effects-box timbre, like the oscillation quietly swirling beneath the bass on the opening cut. There’s so much melody here that this could become very, very popular.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment