Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Tim Hagans Turns It Up at Birdland

Last night at Birdland jazz  trumpeter Tim Hagans played an intense, melody-packed cd release show for his latest one, The Moon Is Waiting, just out on Palmetto. Hagans chose his spots expertly: it was rare that he went more than a few bars before either handing over the lead, so to speak, to the other players, or letting the intensity sink in before kicking back in. While Freddie Hubbard at his peak circa Red Clay is an obvious influence, both in terms of tonal clarity and judiciously aggressive attack, Hagans has his own voice, as cerebral as it is tuneful. Alongside him, Vic Juris added a jaw-dropping variety of shades on electric guitar, with Rufus Reid magisterial, purist and occasionally lowdown and slyly funky on bass, drummer Jukkis Uotila propelling the group with one rapidfire cluster after another, and supplying vividly austere, otherworldly piano on one tune as well.

The first three songs on the album are a suite commissioned by a dance project: live in concert, despite their stylistic diversity, the physicality of the pieces translated dramatically. The opening track, Ornette’s Waking Dream of a Woman (title supplied by the head of the dance troupe) was more overtly extroverted, even joyous, than the edgily rhythmic, 70s noir-tinged version on the album. Likewise, the studio version of the title track is essentially a long, enjoyably suspenseful intro without any kind of resolution; live, it became a springboard for energetic, unwinding spirals from Hagans that gave the piece a swinging contrast with the endlessly flurrying, seemingly rubato rumbles of the rhythm section. Then they took it down for a cooly minimalist, soulful Reid solo, moving casually out of the depths to segue elegantly into the album’s third track, Get Outside, a mini-suite that gave Juris a chance to air out his rock side with a wryly crescendoing ascending progression as it wound out, lining up the dancers, metaphorically speaking, for a big blazing finale.

The album version of What I’ll Tell Her Tonight is loaded with subtext; here, it was delivered irony-free, simply a beautiful ballad with Hagans in cool, Miles Davis mode, Juris expertly using his volume knob to vary the tones emerging from the shadows. A briskly shuffling swing tune, First Jazz aptly illustrated a fifteen-year-old Hagans’ transformative moment realizing that trumpet was his calling, adrenalizing riff upon riff, Juris clearing a path with his brightly sustained jump-blues lines. Midway through the show, Hagans expressed an unselfconsciously genuine appreciation for a crowd who’d come out in support of music, and albums, as adventurous as his are. And the crowd gave it back to him. They wanted an encore, but didn’t get one: Phil Woods was next on the bill, and time was up.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intense, Gripping Jazz from Tim Hagans

Jazz trumpeter Tim Hagans has a hard-hitting, darkly intense, frequently noir new album, The Moon Is Waiting, just out on Palmetto. Hagans is a cerebral, uncompromising artist who dedicates himself to creating emotionally impactful music. As he sees it (he goes on at considerable length about this at his site), art might be the most powerful weapon we have against fascism. This record doesn’t seem to have any specific political meaning or message, but it delivers both dark and lighter emotions, and unexpected humor, in equally strong doses. It’ll inspire you to at the very least remember that having music like this is a right worth fighting for.

Alongside Hagans, Vic Juris plays guitar with tremendous, purist eclecticism, frequently reaching back to the 60s, and also to that era’s blues and rock, for tones and riffage. Rufus Reid on bass and Jukkis Uotila on drums swing hard through Hagans’ knotty, shapeshifting tempos and themes; Uotila also contributes tersely lyrical, somewhat brooding piano as well.

One real knockout here is the title track, straight out of the JD Allen school of intensity except for the fact that it’s about about six minutes long. Essentially, it’s just one long intro that keeps the suspense up and doesn’t let go. Hagans plays ominous chromatics over moody minor guitar chords; the background grows disassociative as the trumpet growls, disappears for a bit, comes back in warily and then shivers and screams over the warped, choppy waves behind him. Reid struggles briefly but memorably against the current before finally going under.

Ornette’s Waking Dream of a Woman is less Ornette than Taxi Driver theme, syncopated 70s noir cinematics that rumble in lockstep, slowly diverge, slither back and then give Juris the first of many moments to brighten the mood with some wry blues, which Hagans spins around and sends scurrying into the shadows again. They keep it noir with Get Outside, Hagans in pensive, spacious Miles mood over a tense minimalist piano/bass hook. Soon it goes starlit with solo piano, then takes on a surreal edge that resolves with surprising warmth once Juris gets ahold of it and rocks out a burning, ascending riff that Hagans drives triumphantly through the checkered flag.

What I’ll Tell Her Tonight is the funniest number here, and it’s a gem. It’s not clear who Hagans or his bandmates might be talking to or what they might say to her: what’s clear is that they’ve all been up to no good. Juris begins perfectly deadpan, talking a lot and saying absolutely nothing that has to be said; Hagans knows he’s done wrong but the band won’t let on, tiptoeing while the trumpet eventually goes all mealymouthed. There are other LOL moments here but none quite like this one.

The rest of the album alternates between apprehension and high spirits. Boo begins with deviously watery 80s chorus-box guitar, takes on an easygoing funk feel to the point where Reid lays down a sly solo of his own before once again – there’s a pattern here – Hagans amps up the suspense and the surveillance is on again. Wailing Trees is a darkly bracing mini-suite, a smartly crafted study in passing the anchor between band members as well as balancing tonal colors, drums vs. trumpet or guitar vs. bass. Likewise, Things Happen in a Convertible shifts from swing to quiet tension – particularly during a brilliantly methodical, spacious Reid solo – and then back and forth a couple of times, capped by some delicious chromatic runs by Hagans. He plays songs from this album with most of the same crew here this Thursday the 20th at 6 (six) PM at Birdland – if melodic jazz is your thing and your schedule allows, it’s a show you ought to catch.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magos Herrera’s Mexico Azul Reinvents Classic Film Music

Singer Magos Herrera’s latest effort Mexico Azul is a jazz (and occasionally jazz-pop) album first and foremost, using classic Mexican film themes from the 1940s through the 60s as a stepping-off point rather than trying to recapture the originals’ magically lo-fi yet towering ambience. Herrera’s unadorned, carefully modulated contralto is in full force here, yet she also shows off an impressively soaring upper register. This was obviously a labor of love for the chanteuse, who’s been outspoken about how this album is a celebration of the “Africanness” of Mexico and Mexican culture – an admirable goal, considering what a melting pot the country has been throughout history. The group behind her is first-class, with Luis Perdomo on piano, John Patitucci on bass, Alex Kautz on drums, Rogerio Boccato on percussion, Tim Hagans on trumpet and Adam Rogers (of Randy Brecker’s band) on guitars.

The opening track, Alvaro Carrillo’s Luz de Luna is much more terse than the lush ranchera original, with a spiky Rogers acoustic solo. Herrera’s version of Noche Criolla falls somewhere between the furtiveness of the original and the ecstatic Celia Cruz version, featuring more nicely slinky work from Rogers. Interestingly, Herrera’s version of Agustin Lara’s Azul is a lot more moody and expansive, Hagans’ occasional trumpet accents the only concession to the boisterousness of the original. Angelitos Negros, an orchestrated Pedro Infante bolero hit from the 1948 movie of the same name gets a smartly smoky treatment with Hagans mining that vein memorably. The airy, atmospheric intro to Alvaro Carrillo’s Seguire Mi Viaje’s leads into judiciously hushed clave jazz lowlit by Perdomo’s careful phrasing and an artfully tiptoeing Patitucci solo. It’s catchy and accessible without being the least bit cliched.

An original composition, Voz Antigua (A Mi Tierra) works an understatedly plaintive ambience and a gingerly shapeshifting piano groove. The cover of Lamento Jarocho distantly echoes the suspensefully pensive bounce of the Agustin Lara original, while another Alvaro Carrillo number, Que Sea Para Mi gets a gentle, nocturnal bossa bounce. Everybody from Javier Solis to Luis Miguel has covered Tres Palabras: Herrera and band reinvent it as a coyly understated romp, from the scatting on the intro to Hagans’ jauntily retro, bluesy muted solo. The most radical, and deliciously successful reinterpretation on the album, Puerto Rican composer Pedro Flores’ Obsesion is so slow that it’s creepy, Hagans lurking behind Perdomo and Rogers’ brooding, incisive lines. The album ends up with marvelously original take of Dos Gardenias, considerably darker and more suspenseful than the Antonio Machin tango from the 40s. This album works on a lot of levels, as jazz and also as pop music – the one thing this isn’t is nostalgia. For that you’ll have to go to youtube: many of the original versions of these songs are there.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ryan Truesdell Resurrects a Gil Evans Classic Mothballed for Half a Century

Friday night the Jazz Standard looked to be sold out and for good reason. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Impulse Records, the club has been playing host to a series of concerts commemorating artists or albums associated with the influential 1960s jazz label. This was the pick of the bunch, an allstar sixteen-piece cast assembled by composer Ryan Truesdell, a leading Gil Evans advocate and scholar, playing Evans’ 1961 big band cult classic Out of the Cool. Truesdell was quick to acknowledge the support of Evans’ widow Anita, who was in the audience. He also reminded that this may have been the first time the music on the album has been played live, as a whole, in fifty years. Which on one hand is mind-boggling – in the intervening five decades, couldn’t someone have pulled a band together just like Truesdell did? On the other hand, leaving it alone makes a lot of sense: it’s hard to improve on perfection.

In their opening set, they didn’t do the whole thing, substituting a vivid, animated version of Nothing Like You (a song long associated with Miles Davis, recorded on another cult classic, 1964’s The Individualism of Gil Evans) for the brooding atmospherics of Sunken Treasure. That choice kept the energy level up via a nonchalantly bristling solo from pianist Frank Kimbrough (spot-on in the Evans role with his judicious, incisive chordal attack) and a long, smokily bluesy one from tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland. As the album’s and the night’s opening track – George Russell’s Stratusphunk – unwound with a jaunty martial pulse, it was clear that this would be an attempt to reach for the brilliance of the original ensemble’s collective improvisation rather than to replicate it. A tall order, needless to say. But having eclectic, virtuoso tuba player Howard Johnson – whose association with Evans lasted more than two decades – helped. As did the presence of George Flynn on bass trombone and Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, rounding out the low end along with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, who got a real workout doing an energetic impression of Ron Carter’s marathon walks.

Kurt Weill’s Bilbao Song got a deliciously pillowy performance, including nimble, incisive work from Kitagawa and guitarist Ben Monder along with ensemble work that dramatically brought out the contrasts between rhythm and the lush horizontality of the melody. Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie, which didn’t make it onto the album until the reissue, also paired off contrasts between the tune’s jaunty swing and some typical blazing, all-stops-out Evans crescendos, and a neat false ending. As expected, the high point of the set, in fact one of the high points of this year’s concerts so far, was an absolutely devastating version of Where Flamingos Fly. The most obviously Sketches of Spain-influenced number on the album, its tense noir atmospherics gave trombonist John Allred a long launching pad for a plaintive, wounded, chillingly beautiful solo spot. They closed with La Nevada, a noir epic on album, here more of a jam on its stunningly simple, memorable hook, Rabonowitz going with slow, gripping blues, trumpeter Greg Gisbert going at it fast, flutist Charles Pillow playfully elbowing Johnson off the page when the tuba started making some unexpected runs way up into flute territory. Drummer Clarence Penn, who’d been grinning almost nonstop at the prospect of getting to emulate Elvin Jones for a whole night, pounced on turnarounds and the end of phrases like a fighter who’s been waiting his whole life for the occasion.

Truesdell didn’t conduct so much as he signaled transitions – and did so with great intuition – although he made a great emcee. His passion for Evans’ music was contagious. Among other projects, he’s spearheading a celebration of the centenary of Evans’ birth this year, with concerts and a recording of some of the fifty-odd unpublished Evans compositions he’s unearthed.

April 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment