Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brian Lynch Salutes Some Undeservedly Obscure Jazz Trumpet Heroes

More musicians should be doing what trumpeter Brian Lynch has done with his Unsung Heroes series, “a tribute to some underappreciated trumpet masters.” Lynch has created the series – now a trio of albums, available for download along with extensive liner notes at www.holisticmusicworks.com – to regenerate interest in several unjustly underrated or even forgotten horn greats. Volume 2 – streaming in its entirety at Lynch’s Bandcamp page– is also now out on cd featuring the trumpeter alongside Vincent Herring on alto sax, Alex Hoffman on tenor sax, Rob Schneiderman on piano, David Wong on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums. Lynch’s tribute emphasizes his obscure greats’ tunesmithing, eschewing explosive cadenzas and garish displays of extended technique in favor of a sometimes clear, sometimes balmy tone and a purist lyricism, in the tradition, rooted in the blues. In a more expansive sense, what Lynch is doing here is a more long-form take on the jukebox style of jazz that JD Allen has revitalized lately. Long, expansive takes give the band a chance to stretch out and take their time with them, resulting in the kind of relaxed, soulful playing that all too often gets lost in the frantic scramble to wrap up a recording date these days.

Tommy Turrentine’s It Could Be kicks off this volume, a nonchalantly catchy swing tune, Herring’s alto solo coalescing out of bop flurries and handing off to Lynch, who takes it in a steadily lyrical direction as he does throughout the album. Among the handful of quartet numbers here, the standout is Joe Gordon’s slow, balmy ballad Heleen, which the band methodically work their way into gentle, matter-of-fact wee-hours swing. Sandy, by Howard McGhee goes from complicated to bright, carefree and bluesy, Lynch adding some energetic doublestops when he’s not running eights, Hoffman following with a bobbing, weaving attack.

The first of three Idrees Sulieman tunes, Short Steps follows a similar path from enigmatic to brighter, Schneiderman’s terse piano handing off to Lynch’s balmy atmospherics as it winds out. Sulieman’s Out/Dancing Shoes has the whole ensemble leaping around drum breaks with an agile grin. The last of his songs, Orange Blossoms is cast as a slow summery ballad with an undercurrent of unease; Lynch’s long, wary, steady grey-skies solo is his best on this album  Lynch’s own Marissa’s Mood, a jump blues, portays Lynch’s wife as graceful, agile and fun  And oldschool – this is a hit!

Lynch’s advocacy for Turrentine is particularly forceful in the wistful, nostalgic ballad Gone But Not Forgotten, which in a fair world would be a standard. ‘Nother Never, a Lynch original dedicated to Louis Smith, gets a lively trumpet/drums intro, a lickety-split swing and then an almost dixieland bustle. They close much the way they started with Donald Byrd’s I’m So Excited By You, resisting the urge to swing it as hard as they can til midway through, Lynch playfully jousting with Van Nostrand on the way out.

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November 9, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Playful, Fun Vocal and Trumpet Pieces from the Twins of El Dorado

There’s nothing doomed or apocalyptic about the Twins of El Dorado‘s album Portend the End. In fact, it’s a lot of fun. Trumpeter Joe Moffett and singer Kristin Slipp play off each other with a wry cameraderie and a sense of thinking outside the box. It’s a casual, low-key album. While Slipp doesn’t hesitate to use the top end of her jaw-dropping four-octave range, Moffett usually plays it pretty chill. In such a seemingly free-form, improvisationally-inclined situation, it’s unusual to hear as much communication and commitment to maintaining a mood as these two have here: they leave the squonking and rasping and extended technique to others.

A few of the songs have lyrics; most of the time, Slipp sings vocalese in her clear, direct, unaffected soprano. The majority of the tracks are on the short side. The opening cut sets the stage, Slipp bobbing and weaving in counterpoint against Moffett: it gets funnier as it goes along. Slipp opens the second number with a giant leap and then loops her part against Moffett’s nonchalant stroll, then they switch roles. The next three tunes employ a  surreal, comedically tinged spoken word element.

Moffett then moves into nonchalant exploratory mode out of divergent harmonies, followed by an improvisation with an irrepressibly droll game of hide-and-seek. A marching miniature, an airy study in stratospheric vocals and the single piece here that veers toward performance art wind up the album. Prom Night Records gets credit for sending this intriguing and surprisingly entertaining collection out into the world.

July 31, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hush Point: Not So Quiet

The debut release from Hush Point is a casually jaunty, low-key summery album. Trumpeter John McNeil and alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden front this pianoless dual horn band. Aryeh Kobrinsky plays bass and contributes the album’s concluding, understatedly celebratory, New Orleans-flavored track; Vinnie Sperazza, whose elbow-dodging shuffles are one of the best things about the recent Ben Holmes Quartet album, does much the same here on drums. With a somewhat muted, dancing rhythm, the quartet sets a mood and maintains it – no wasted notes, good energy, interesting repartee. The groove bounces unpredictably enough to keep everyone on their toes – unostentatious, purposeful, focused.

There are two Jimmy Giuffre compositions here. The first, Iranic, is done as an airy shuffle, with skeletal drum interludes punctuated by similarly skeletal flourishes from the horns. The second, a punchy, amiable McNeil arrangement of The Train & the River has the sax cleverly shadowing the trumpet, Udden eventually reaching for as boisterous a crescendo as there is here.

There’s considerable similarity between the remaining tracks, by both McNeil and Udden. The former contributes Peachful, an easygoing, balmy, summery bounce; Finely Done, an allusive retro 60s number that reaches for and finally hits a shuffling swing; and the warmly upbeat, blues-infused Get Out. Udden’s are somewhat more pensive and grounded in tunesmithing rather than improvisation. B. Remembered offers a lively, swinging variation on the first McNeil track. Bar Talk (yup, that’s a pun) features intricate, baroque-tinged three-way counterpoint between the bass and the horns and forms a diptych with the ballad Fathers and Sons, which finally loosens and gives Sperazza a chance to expand. New Bolero, the darkest and strongest track here, cleverly shifts to doubletime and back, working its way to an unexpectedly moody slink before the band cuts loose and swings it.

July 29, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wadada Leo Smith’s Transcendent Opening Night at Roulette

Wadada Leo Smith isn’t always in a dead serious mood. After his spine-tingling show last night at Roulette, the New York debut of material from his 2012 magnum opus Ten Freedom Summers (rated best album of the year here), the trumpeter/composer treated the audience to a brief Q&A. Smith winkingly related that when a representative from Chamber Music America was scheduled to pay him a visit to finalize a deal for a single commission, he’d made sure to leave “Scores all over the house, on the floor, on…what’s that thing you put on top of the record player?” Three hours later, the CMA rep left, overwhelmed, and Smith had a deal in hand for several additional works.

Smith also explained that he and Emmett Till were both thirteen years old when Till was murdered. Smith was then living in Leland, Mississippi, about 250 miles from the crime scene. “It was kind of a time of fear,” he averred. Ten Freedom Summers traces the history of the civil rights movement through key moments like that – “One that might have something to do with what you call change,” Smith hinted caustically. The idea for the suite, Smith explained, was jumpstarted by his association with August Wilson (Smith’s trumpet was featured in the debut of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). Opening the first night of Smith’s three-night stand that continues here through Friday, Smith’s long-running Golden Quartet was bolstered by the austere, often plaintive strings of Pacifica Red Coral. On one hand, given the gravitas and sheer heft of the suite (a four-cd set recorded mostly during a marathon seventeen-hour session), it was surprising that the show wasn’t completely sold out. Then again, there have been other major moments in jazz – at Massey Hall, for one – that weren’t sold out. When word gets out about how powerful, and intense, and matter-of-factly transcendent this one was, the sets tonight and tomorrow night, both at 8 PM, certainly will be. As of this moment (wee hours of May 2), there are still tickets available.

Smith’s music is grounded in the core values of the blues: economy of notes, a narrative arc and multiple levels of meaning. Even while the ensembles onstage in more than one instance were reinventing the material, it was with a thousand yard stare and a white-knuckle intensity, a common sense of purpose that never wavered. Had Smith schooled them beforehand about the topics the works were written to address? No, Smith told one interested concertgoer. The players simply felt the music. Characteristically, Smith chose his spots judiciously, intently bent over his horn, more inclined to brief resonant accents or tantalizing, allusive hints of chromatic menace than rapidfire cadenzas. Drummer Pheeroan AkLaff shadowed him early on, making rich, emphatic, sometimes portentously ornate, sometimes murderous use of his cymbals and toms. Bassist John Lindberg alternated between tersely incisive accents, stark bowed lines, and a moodily hypnotic blues/gospel groove in the long, increasingly agitated vamp illustrating the Brown vs. Board of Education case.

Pianist Anthony Davis, though he played with a similarly characteristic minimalism, might be the key to the entire unit, maximizing his presence with a glimmering, eerie upper-register resonance balanced by a murkily ominous lefthand. The strings – Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian on violins, Andrew Macintosh on viola and Ashley Walters on cello – ramped up the intensity and suspense with anxious close harmonies that often fueled a sense of pleading or despair, other times exchanging deftly flitting harmonics or tensely swooping motives. Concert harpist Alison Bjorkedal punctuated the apprehensive opacity with an incisive steadiness, occasionally in tandem with the bass. Interestingly, Smith chose to open his stand by including the suite’s two quietest segments: an airily ghostly tone poem depicting the Washington, DC Vietnam War memorial wall, and what turned out to be an absolutely chilling, morose take of Black Church, an acidic piece for strings that might possibly be meant to evoke the horror in the wake of a church bombing.

Smith explained afterward that his portrait of Emmett Till – which hauntingly recycles a riff from Black Church – drew from how the blues can convey a feeling of simultaneous joy and anguish. The rich, briefly majestic portayal of a fearless young man quickly gave way to a corrosive, frantic string interchange and then a somber, elegaic mood, almost rubato but never left to collapse into chaos. The two ensembles wound up the show with an expansive, revealingly bare-bones version of the final track on the album’s first cd, a dignified, allusively neoromantic depiction of John F. Kennedy’s final ride in a horse-drawn hearse. If just that idea alone doesn’t get you out to the shows tonight or tomorrow night, you obviously have no need for transcendence.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wadada Leo Smith Does It Again

Forget for a minute that Wadada Leo Smith’s new album Dark Lady of the Sonnets, with his trio Mbira, is a summit meeting of three of the most compelling voices in jazz improvisation. More than anything, it’s a celebration of being alive. An intimately majestic, sometimes exuberant, warmly conversational album, it’s a must-own for fans of free jazz. Then again, that could be said about a lot of the Wadada Leo Smith, Min Xiao-Fen and Pheeroan akLaff catalogs. This particular session, recorded in 2007 in Finland and released worldwide just now on the reliably adventurous Tum Records label, captures the trio exploring Smith’s permutations on ancient Shona melodies from west Africa.

In the liner notes (which include comprehensive bios for each artist), Smith traces a line back from himself to Louis Armstrong, a connection that might not seem evident at first listen, but up close becomes very clear. Steeped in the blues as a child, Smith never lost that idiom’s terse soulfulness. What’s more, this album is remarkably rhythmic for a free jazz session, something that Smith’s cohorts here deserve credit for as well.

But first Smith goes back to a bell-like Miles Davis tone on the first track, Sarah Bell Wallace, a dedication to his mother, trumpet austerely calling for a dutiful response from spiky thickets of pipa plucking and rolling, suspenseful drums in turn. AkLaff’s signature drum sound, playing actual melody rather than simply rhythm, is in vivid effect here. It’s a warily soulful portrait of an indomitable woman who obviously knew suffering but rose above it and brought her family along.

Min Xiao-Fen, who is afraid of nothing and will play anything, is often the wild card here, bringing her signature sense of humor to Blues: Cosmic Beauty, a story of renewal. Peering up through Smith’s alternately flurrying and richly sustained, restrained lines, she swoops, dives and vocalizes a little, finally ceding to the trumpet on the chorus (much as there’s a great deal of improvisation going on, there’s a clearly defined architecture to all these works).

Zulu Water Festival, meant to evoke South Africans dancing on surface of a lake, juxtaposes a festive melody to a stately allusive groove and a strikingly spacious interlude held down by akLaff’s apprehensively nuanced, drony rumble. The title track, a Billie Holiday homage, puts the pipa player to work as a singer again, low and intimate as the conversation between instruments slowly rises, finally reaching bop fervor as Smith takes the trio out rattling and flurrying. The final track is a suite simply titled Mbira, a spiritually-inspired ballet based on Shona thumb piano music, with variations on a hypnotic circular theme. An animated dialogue between the three instruments swells and ebbs, with akLaff almost imperceptibly building to what seems like an inevitable crescendo with gorgeously nebulous washes of cymbals. Pipa, vocals and trumpet move from calm and sustained to agitated, Min finally swooping down coyly to meet Smith’s summoning call and then setting the whole thing ablaze with a forest of tremolo-picking as akLaff rumbles and leapfrogs his way out of it. It ends on an ambiguous note – maybe there’s a sequel lying in wait.

Also recently out on the Cuneiform label is Smith’s considerably more electric, aggressive and compositionally-oriented Heart’s Reflections double cd with his Organic band, featuring akLaff along with guitarists Michael Gregory and Brandon Ross along with a wide assortment of downtown New York types. Smith will be giving both of these bands a workout along with his Golden Quartet, Golden Quintet and Silver Orchestra as he celebrates his 70th birthday at the new Roulette space in Brooklyn on Dec 15 and 16 at 8 PM.

December 13, 2011 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

Tin/Bag Create A Memorable Late-Night Atmosphere

Guitarist Mike Baggetta and trumpeter Kris Tiner, who wryly call themselves Tin/Bag, have a tremendously enjoyable, low-key, late-night duo album just out, titled Bridges. It’s a memorably melodic, minimalistic, impeccably tasteful mix of original compositions for guitar and trumpet, along with one cover, Dylan’s Just Like a Woman done as laid-back wee-hours theme. Sometimes this feels as if they’ve taken an early 60s postbop album, completely disassembled it and then put it back together kaleidoscopically using only about 5% of of the original parts. Fragments of comfortable, trad jazz melody, from balladesque to bluesy, will pop up unexpectedly and then vanish – imagine a minimalist mashup of Sketches of Spain. Interplay is not the defining mechanism here: rather, each instrument serves as a complement to the other. Baggetta is subtle to the extreme, employing a clean, round tone with a tinge of tremolo or reverb. In the past, he’s explored a jazz approach to Erik Satie, and that influence makes itself welcome here. Tiner typically handles lead lines, with a crystalline, soulful approach comparable to Ron Miles or Ingrid Jensen. The chemistry between the two is quietly dynamic and richly effective.

The two best songs here – and they are songs in the best sense of the word – are the darkest ones. The title track opens with a rubato feel, as many of these do, and very soon goes into the dark end of the pool, David Lynch-esque with waves of gentle jangle against distantly bright but plaintive blues-tinged trumpet. The Truth has Baggetta opening it with gently plaintive, understated flamenco inflections, Tiner rising with a Miles Davis-ish majesty and articulacy over Baggetta’s calm, austere gravitas. And Maslow – a reference to some kind of hierarchy, maybe? – also hints at flamenco, then Tiner goes up and out just a little while Baggetta keeps it steady with smartly chosen whole-note chords.

The opening track, Bobo, kicks off with a subtly ringing taqsim of sorts, each player settling matter-of-factly into his role, Baggetta holding it together as Tiner takes his time and goes exploring. The other tracks are a clinic in the surprising amount of diversity that can be achieved within a simple set of parameters, i.e. just two players in mellow and thoughtful mode. Osho, kicking off with Baggetta solo, is a pensive big sky tableau a la Frisell in a particularly optimistic moment. It segues into the harmonics of Aurobindo, which reaches for a hypnotic ambience with judiciously chosen chordal moments and spaciously placed accents. Govinda, the most “free” track here, has Tiner fluttering and bubbling a little over Baggetta’s allusiveness. A question followed by an answer (or maybe the other way around), Inayat Khan is the most skeletal track here. Tune in, turn on, chill out.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two More Unlikely Gems from the CTI Archive

The reissues keep coming from the CTI vaults. Creed Taylor’s influential 1970s West Coast jazz label may be remembered for fusion, but the fact is that they put out some amazing albums. The highlight of the latest batch is Freddie Hubbard’s improbable 1971 First Light, with George Benson, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, Phil Kraus on vibes and Richard Wyands on keyboards plus an orchestra. Something this casually lavish could only have occurred in the 70s – especially for a jazz trumpeter who wasn’t likely to sell ten thousand albums. Did anybody make money on this project? Doubtful. But it was worth it many times over. After all the mysterioso atmospherics fade down, the eleven-minute title track is essentially a two-chord vamp over a tense son montuno beat: Hubbard works it thematically and judiciously, pretty remarkable considering that you can practically smell the ganja wafting from under the door at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio. The orchestra’s thousand butterfly wings flutter, announcing choruses and solos, Benson goes lickety-split to bring the energy up a notch and turns it over to Hubbard until it’s obvious that he’s out of gas.

The cover of Paul McCartney’s odious Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey is deviously funny, Hubbard distancing himself from the cloying opening riff at the first turn and turning it into a diptych of one-chord funk jams, Benson unable to do much with it so he hits the same riffs again and again. If you ever suffered through the original in the supermarket or via lite FM radio, the trick ending will make you laugh. It’s amazing how they take Henry Mancini’s Moment to Moment and mix funk, a boozy ballad vibe and an orchestra; the cover of Yesterday’s Dreams is the piece de resistance here, done as brooding bossa nova, orchestra magically interpolated with big swells at just the right moments. Leonard Bernstein’s Lonely Town gets a subtle 1971 LA noir treatment; the rest of the album includes both an outtake (another vampy one, Cedar Walton’s Fantasy in D) and an expansive 1975 live take of the title track with Carter, DeJohnette and not Eric Gales on guitar, as the liner notes indicate, but an uncredited and quite agile Rhodes player.

Another choice pick from the CTI vaults is George Benson’s Beyond the Blue Horizon, also from 1971. It’s a similarly unexpected treat: a Hammond B3 album that’s about as far from Breezin’ as…hmmm, Kind of Blue is from Bitches Brew. Here Rev. Benson is backed by Clarence Palmer on organ plus a rhythm section of Carter and DeJohnette. They take So What as a swinging shuffle, Benson running through the raindrops, Carter bobbing and weaving as DeJohnette works an almost martial beat. Luiz Bonfa’s The Gentle Rain is bossa as Jimmy McGriff might do it, Palmer’s swift, brooding intensity shifting it to more of a tango before the storm subsides and Benson reemerges with a smile.

The rest of the album is Benson originals. All Clear has a warm, grazing-in-the-grass soul groove, followed by the atmospheric, catchy, gently swaying Ode to a Kudu. The last, Somewhere in the East, is a real eye-opener, probably the most “free” that Benson has ever been captured on vinyl, Carter’s steady groove anchoring Carter and Benson as they hammer and bend, sometimes atonally. Three outtakes are included as well: All Clear done more as a straight-up B3 shuffle; an even more ethereal guitar-and-drums take of Ode to a Kudu and a surprisingly straightforward Somewhere in the East: it’s something of a shock that this jaunty swing version, with its biting, rumbling outro wasn’t chosen for the album instead. Both of these are back in print, for a long time let’s hope, on CTI Masterworks.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cuong Vu’s New Agogic Album Mixes the Catchy and the Challenging

It would be an overstatement to say that trumpeter Cuong Vu’s new Agogic album, just out on upstart Seattle label Table and Chairs Music, is New York sound from Seattle – after all, there are scenes just as vital and cutting-edge as New York’s in plenty of major cities. Yet that’s the trajectory that Vu has followed, having returned recently to his hometown where he put together this excellent group with Andrew D’Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Luke Bergman on electric bass and Evan Woodle on drums. It’s “postmillenial jazz,” as Vu calls it, a mix of the accessible and the avant. Blending elements of funk, minimalism, warmly consonant melodicism and assaultive noise, it’s an individual sound and a very enjoyable album.

They start on the accessible tip, a funky bass clarinet hook (when’s the last time you heard one of those?!?) over a slow, thumping, trip-hop-ish beat. Clarinet and then trumpet switch off hitting on the beat, Vu adding shivery accents, mimicking a backward masked melody, then finally the rhythm falls apart as the cymbals take over. The second track begins blustery, goes funky with a circular hook, D’Angelo joining Vu in a boisterous, rhythmic double solo as the drums gallop and Vu signals an insistent crescendo. The next cut is a real gem, pensive sostenuto trumpet over a memorably wary, minimalist chromatic bass hook and gingerly leapfrogging tom-toms. The choruses pick up, first sax and then trumpet calm against the storm rumbling underneath. When they hit the second chorus, bass pounding out chords like Peter Hook on steroids as the band wails behind him, it’s pure bliss.

Track 4, Old Heap, by Woodle, is a tremendously successful example of suspenseful minimalism, anchored by an almost imperceptibly expanding, catchy chromatic bass hook with trumpet floating overhead. A still, spacious interlude with the occasional judicious drum accent kicks off a slow crescendo upward with screeching sax far in the distance against Vu’s warm sustained lines which pull it out of the mist. The fifth cut is the most accessible, prettiest one here, a ballad that works its way down into some neat bass chords and then slowly up from there, trumpet tune embellished gently by the sax as it morphs into a gentle march. The next track dances joyously on a tricky funk beat, like early Spyro Gyra (before they went all synthy) updated for the teens, featuring blazing and blustery alto and trumpet solos. They close on a powerful note that kicks off with distorted bass ambience, trumpet holding up the sky as a reverberating, ominous drone rumbles and crackles underneath. And when Vu pulls the volume up, it brings up the temperature on the swirling cauldron underneath as well, a refreshingly noisy, bracing way to close this lively and diverse album.

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Rare 1986 Wadada Leo Smith Show Surfaces

Here’s a really cool one from the vaults: a 1986 duo performance at Brandeis University featuring trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith – an early AACM member – and his drummer friend Ed Blackwell, the longtime Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman sideman. Recorded by the college radio station and just now seeing the light of day almost 25 years later, it’s a brisk, entertaining and warmly melodic romp, quite a change from the intricately, often massively orchestrated stuff Smith has mined lately. Blackwell’s performance here, as Smith has taken care to emphasize, is especially impressive because although his playing is completely improvised, it’s intricately thought out, a series of hypnotic riffs that he runs over and over again for a trance-inducing vibe. Either Blackwell had them up his sleeve all along – several with tinges of hip-hop; a martial New Orleans step, and a couple that sound like loops – or he conjured them up on the spot, which as Smith avers is the more likely story. Either way, it makes this new album, titled The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer, a goldmine for rappers on the prowl for catchy samples.

It’s essentially a ten-part suite. Not all of the tracks segue into each other, but many of them do. Smith goes for melody most of the time, a central four-note hook that twists and bends and then comes back toward the end when least expected. His tone is bright, clear, and ebullient except for the couple of occasions when he goes off-mic, with a mute, as Blackwell takes centerstage. It’s fascinating to hear how Blackwell pulls Smith into a series of staccato, insistent, minimalist phrases from time to time: he’s nothing if not a good influence. There are a couple of vocal numbers here too, the of them first building vivid, watery ambience as Smith plinks on a mbira (west African thumb piano) and Blackwell flails on the metal on his kit. The second is something of a meek-shall-inherit-the-earth theme with Rasta overtones (which are present but muted; one brief, lyrical passage here is titled Sellassie-I). Occasionally Blackwell will move out from the center, signaling a small handful of Smith excursions, but those are few and far between. More often, it’s Smith judiciously ornamenting over a trance-inducing groove or five. One cut here features Smith playing pensively expansive flute, contrasting with Blackwell’s most traditional, and most aggressive work here. They close with a number that juxtaposes balmy atmosphere with slinky funk, then the instruments switch roles; the final cut is almost a fugue, blithe trumpet glissandos alternated with those brief, percussive, staccato accents again, in a tribute to Albert Ayler. It’s a lot of fun, especially as it showcases a side that neither musician has ever been particularly known for.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment