Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Good Things Come in Twos on Ingrid Laubrock’s Haunting, Massive New Double Album

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s epic new double album Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt – streaming at Bandcamp – has a novel concept: a single set of compositions performed by a jazz quartet plus chamber orchestra, then a completely different jazz quintet. The difference between the large and small-ensemble versions is stunning, to the point where one version is unrecognizable compared to the other.

Laubrock has worked with large improvising ensembles before, but this is her most ambitious and darkest project to date. There’s more going on here than anyone could possibly capsulize in a digestible album review: dive in for yourself and experience this strange and wonderful creation. Although it was recorded before the lockdown, the occasional shriek through the mist foreshadows the horror that would be the year 2020.

The first disc features the bandleader on tenor and soprano sax, joined by Cory Smythe on piano and quartertone electric piano, Robert Landfermann on bass and Tom Rainey on drums, along with the EOS Chamber Orchestra conducted by Susanne Blumenthal. They open with the title track, Laubrock’s upbeat, energetic solo seemingly wrenching the group along with her. Smythe quickly switches to eerie microtonal accents as Laubrock grows more casual, the strings looming back in with a similarly magical microtonality. Slides, dopplers and various echo effects, growly processed bass over shimmery ambience, and a plaintive bit of a viola theme all factor into the album’s first ten minutes. That sets the stage for the rest of the record.

Snorkel Cows has a bubbling, circling drive, rippling microtonal piano, strings like an agitated flock of birds, massed glissandos, echoey ambience and striking, resonant high/low contrasts plus a long, pensive interlude from Laubrock over disquieting, pulsing atmospherics. As strange as the tonalities are, the music isn’t far from what you might hear from an ambitiously tuneful current-day big band like Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge.

The album’s most symphonic number is Drilling, the first version clocking in at almost nineteen minutes of troubled haze punctuated by belltones, foghorns over a sad harbor, Hitchcockian moment of panic, trolls under a bridge and a triumphantly weird crescendo.

Never Liked That Guy has a playful light/dark dichotomy early on over shivery massed orchestration, rivulets of microtonal piano desencending and a relentlessly ominous backdrop for a surprisingly animated Laubrock soprano sax solo. The final cut, Down the Mountain, Down the Mountain is a Dvorkian orchestral cautionary tale  with looming low brass and keening strings taking the place of the indians out on the prairie, disintegrating to what seems to be an inevitable battle .

The quintet versions of the material are more pensive, as can be expected. Laubrock’s energy in the quintet version of Snorkel Cows commands centerstage, whether blippy or calm over the ensemble of Smythe, electric harpist Zeena Parkins, accordionist Adam Matlock and Momenta Quartet violinist Josh Modney. This time the drilling in the wall keeps up, but nobody seems to be paying any mind.

Speaking of Drilling, the quintet version is a thicket of stabbing burnt-plastic electronic interruptions finally redeemed by Matlock’s pulsing chords and a plaintive Laubrock solo over raindrop-and-mist sonics. Smythe’s jackhammering attack and Laubrock’s breathlessly jumping soprano sax substitutes for the orchestra in the take of I Never Liked That Guy

Modney’s severe, slashing microtonal riffs are matched by Laubrock’s masterful in-between harmonies and Matlock’s resolute resonance in Down the Mountain, Down the Mountain.

There’s also an electronic component throughout the album, typically in the background and mostly confined to tweaking textures, adding echoes and loops.

December 16, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murky Noir Classics and Devious Jousting from Baritone Sax Titan Josh Sinton

Gritty lows, epic solos, smoky riffage, paint-peeling extended-technique freakout: baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton does it all. He’s played on some of the most memorable big band gigs in New York in recent years, but he’s also a mainstay in the far reaches of improvisational music. That’s why his latest project, Phantasos – a Morphine cover band – might be a surprise, considering how straightforward it is. But for anyone who misses that iconic noir trio, Sinton channels Dana Colley’s blend of murk and lyricism while a rotating rhythm section adds a little extra slink. Nobody in the band is using a two-string bass, as Mark Sandman did, but the group’s debut at Barbes a week ago is the next best thing. Phantasos are back at Barbes every Saturday evening at 6 PM this month, tonight included.

Sinton’s latest album with his Predicate Trio – cellist Chris Hoffman and drummer Tom Rainey – is completely different, and streaming at Bandcamp. So much jazz improvisation is awkward and spastic: this is all about conversations, and good jokes, and spontaneous entertainment. Sinton opens it with a sepulchral solo miniature, the ghosts of baritone saxophonists past wafting and keening up through the valves.

Tellingly, there’s more than a hint of Morphine in the epic second number, Sinton pulling away from the catchy theme, up to a burning cello-and-bass interlude with Hoffman’s chords pulsing over Rainey’s colorful, textured syncopation. The sly humor and subtle drift back toward the theme in the jam at the end are characteristically erudite.

The staccato, rhythmic triangulation in Taiga is much the same, after the wry cat-on-the-steppes-in-midwinter interlude that opens it. A Dance is elegant and rather somber, from Hoffman’s long, terse solo intro, through hypnotically catchy, circling riffs, a divergent interlude contrasting Sinton’s carefree accents against Rainey’s majestic tom-tom resonance and an unexpectedly calm resolution.

After an amusing, improvisational rondo of sorts, the group stray even further outside in Unreliable Mirrors, with its rustles and flutters and a coy quasi-march, Rainey coloring the exchange with every timbre he can coax from the depths of his kit, finally rising to a chuffing crescendo.

Sinton and Hoffman growl in tandem as the aptly titled Propulsive steams aong,; then the volcano boils over with a memorable squall. Hoffman hints at a stroll in the improvisation after that, shadowed by fleeting sax and drums. Sinton brings the album full circle with a sly squawk.

February 9, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Fred Hersch Brings an Unexpected Album Back to the Vanguard

When pianist Fred Hersch got his first stand as a bandleader at the Village Vanguard – after innumerable gigs there as a sideman – he decided to record the first night. Almost twenty-two years later, he edited three sets worth of material down to a digestible eight numbers, a couple of originals mixed in with some animated standards.

How does The Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard – streaming at Spotify – compare with Hersch’s more recent work?  This is party music. There’s less gravitas and more humor – although Hersch’s wit has hardly dimmed over the years, as his recent duo album with Anat Cohen bears out. The sonics here are a little on the trebly side, although the separation between instruments is good, and the ice machine doesn’t factor in.

Chronologically, this is the first live recording of Hersch leading a band, and the only one with this trio, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. Hersch is bringing his current trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson back to the Vanguard, which over the years has become his home away from home. The trio are there on New Year’s Day through the third of january, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30; cover is now $35. Then the pianist leads a quartet with the great Miguel Zenon on alto sax through the 6th.

The group work tightly shifting syncopation, latin allusions, a little coy blues and an even more puckish doublespeed crescendo in the album’s kinetic, practically ten-minute first number, Easy to Love. Gress’ amiably tiptoeing solo sets up a chugging one from Rainey. Hersch’s own righthand/lefthand conversation winds it up deviously. 

Hersch’s raindrop intro to an even more expansive My Funny Valentine is similarly choice. Rainey develops a tongue-in-cheek clave; Gress pirouettes, then dips into the shadows, a signal to Hersch to reemerge and quickly toss aside caution: a genuinely amusing valentine.

Three Little Words makes an aptly lighthearted, briskly swinging segue, followed by the dancing, Bill Evans-inspired original Evanescence, Gress leading a cleverly triangulated intro. There’s a subtle fugal quality to this dynamically shifting, Brazilan-tinged song without words.

Andrew John, a Gress ballad, could be a more spacious Donald Fagen, with some richly airy Rainey cymbal work. The take of I Wish I Knew has a loose-limbed swing and glisteningly dancing lines from the bandleader, while Swamp Thang –  the second Hersch tune here – opens with a deadpan strut that gets more evilly cartoonish. To close the album, they shift their way warily but energetically their way through You Don’t Know What Love Is, capped off by a ridiculously funny Rainey solo.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment