Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Mark Lomax Trio Tackles a Daunting Theme

The Mark Lomax Trio isn’t your typical jazz trio. On their new album The State of Black America, drummer Lomax, bassist Dean Hulett and tenor saxophonist Edwin Bayard approach Lomax’s compositions with equal parts vigor and rigor. Lomax has stated that he wrote this as an exploration on themes of self-improvement and empowerment: seen as a demonstration of awareness and self-discipline, and the myriad possibilities that open up within those parameters, it’s a stunning success. One possible interpretation is that Lomax, trained in European musical theory, decided to apply the principles of minimalism to a style, jazz, which often resists the severity that school of thought entails.

The other possibility, of course, is that he simply told his guys not to overdo it. Whatever the case, this album is a clinic in making every note count: Lomax is the rare drummer who leaves you wanting more, leading his bandmates through a strikingly terse, brilliantly counterintutive and ultimately joyous series of explorations. Hulett takes the role traditionally assigned to the drums, maintaining the rhythmic center with a strikingly spare, decisive melodicism: he doesn’t just walk scales. Lomax is a colorist here: his palette uses the entire spectrum and the entirety of his kit (especially his snare sound, a richly resounding snap that other drummers will be scratching their heads trying to emulate once they hear it). Likewise, Bayard thoughtfully and decisively builds permutations on simple, memorable blues-based motifs: stripped to its core, this is a great blues album.

The opening cut, Stuck in a Rut seems to be very ironically titled, a jaunty blues theme that contrasts Lomax’s matter-of-factly rapidfire underpinnings with a long, slinkily expansive solo by Hulett. The quintessential track here is the second one, The Unknown Self, a showcase for quietly bristling intensity on Lomax’s part (he opens and closes it with a hushed, rapt intensity), Hulett echoing Bayard and taking the song deep into the blues with another long, minimalist solo. The practically twelve-minute third track, The Power of Knowing moves stately, even regally, bass and sax carrying on a Socratic dialogue once everyone converges, piece by piece, from the shadows. Bayard absolutely owns the fourth track, masterfully expanding on a series of smartly positioned building blocks, Lomax taking his time judiciously and finally reaching the level of a rumble as Bayard circles overhead, triumphantly. They close with a long, expressive blues featuring yet another warmly intelligent, ruminatively deliberate bass solo. This is headphone jazz: those who are in it for the long haul will be richly rewarded. It’s out now on Inarhyme Records.

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August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Orrin Evans – Faith in Action

We like to mix it up here. The most recent jazz album we reviewed was headphone jazz; the one before that was gypsy jazz. This one is solace-after-a-hard-day jazz. Pianist Orrin Evans leads a trio with bassist Luques Curtis and Nasheet Waits on drums here on his Posi-Tone Records debut, essentially a tribute to Evans’ friend and mentor Bobby Watson. Evans matches a precise articulation to a hard-hitting lefthand attack: his playing is cerebral, intense, sometimes febrile, often uneasy. It will pick you up and straighten your head out even as it plays games with your mind: there’s a lot going on here, as sharply focused as the playing is.

Evans kicks off with an original, the matter-of-factly bluesy Don’t Call Me Wally, switching up the time signature and getting a little march thing going on for awhile. The title track, like many others here a Watson composition has a shuffling My Favorite Things vibe propelled artfully by Waits’ lithe cymbal work. Wheel Within a Wheel has Evans cutting loose amidst lush sheets of cymbals by Rocky Bryant, Waits playfully doing three-on-four behind Curtis’ brief, incisive solo. Another Watson tune, Appointment in Milano has Evans bludgeoning a chromatic vamp a la McCoy Tyner.

The fifth track is essentially a funk song in shifting tempos, chugging bass propelling it as guest Gene Jackson’s drums add color. Beattitudes, by Watson, climbs out of the murk impressionistically and expansively; an Evans original, MAT-Matt prowls around over a hypnotic chromatic riff. The best song on the album is the title cut from Watson’s landmark 1986 album, Love Remains, done here as an understatedly rueful ballad, sustained chords over a matter-of-fact, resigned rhythm section and some deliciously ominous, starlit, upper register work from Evans at the end. The album wraps up with a no-nonsense stride number by Evans that gives Curtis a chance to up the intensity with a defiantly strutting solo, and a straight-up swing tune.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Salvatore Bonafede Trio – Sicilian Opening

Italian jazz pianist Salvatore Bonafede blends diverse classic styles and pensive European melodies along with the occasional rustic Sicilian accent into a strikingly memorable, hummable mix on this new cd. In the style of another eminently catchy current composer, JD Allen, pretty much everything here clocks in at under five minutes, sometimes considerably less. Yet as indelible as the compositions are, the playing is impeccably tasteful and understated – if anything, these guys could cut loose a lot more if they felt like it.

The album opens with a jaunty New Orleans theme, quoting Brubeck liberally early on. According to the liner notes, the second cut is ostensibly Arab-influenced, but it’s basically a swaying, moody two-chord vamp into a catchy, bluesy chorus. Track three, Ideal Standard memorably addresses issues of communication or lack thereof via Bonafede’s tensely judicious minor-key phrasing. Bassist Marco Panascia maintains the vibe, voicing a solo that builds intensity as it follows Bonafede’s lines even as it brings the volume down to the lower registers. The trio follow that with a slow, expressive quasi blues, drummer Marcello Pellitteri deftly bouncing accents off the piano’s bass notes.

The warmly cinematic seventh track paints an Americana-inflected tableau evocative of the late Danny Federici’s solo work. Of the two covers here, Blackbird is a song that should be retired – no matter what Bonafede does with it, which isn’t straying particularly far from the original, you are only waiting for the moment to arrive when it’s over. But with his version of She’s Leaving Home, Bonafede really captures the understated exasperation and unspoken rage in the McCartney original. The other tracks include a tribute to Palermo that builds to the closest approximation of a scream that there is here; a hypnotic Dr. John homage, and a casually swaying number that blends gospel with an updated, martial WC Handy vibe. The album creeps up on you if you’re not paying attention – that’s how strong the melodies are.  The liner notes have an earnestness that’s often hilarious, like they’ve been babelfished backwards and forwards. Somebody get these guys a translator that speaks…that is to say, one with a voice that isn’t computer-generated.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments