Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

This Hole’s Got a Bucket in It

Ben Syversen plays trumpet in two of New York’s best bands, Balkan juggernaut Raya Brass Band and also ferociously eclectic guitar-and-horn-driven “new Balkan uproar” outfit Ansambl Mastika. His new solo album Cracked Vessel is a masterpiece of warped, paint-peeling noise and spontaneous fun. Part noise-rock, part free jazz, with frequent Balkan and funk tinges, it screeches, squalls and rattles its way through one side of your cranium and out the other. Easy listening? Hardly, but it’s without question one of the most deliciously intense albums of the year (it’ll be on our Best of 2010 list at the end of December). Alongside Syversen’s alternately thoughtful atmospherics, blazing Gypsy sprints and tersely wary passages, Xander Naylor’s guitars do triple duty, serving as both bass and percussion along with providing some of the most memorably twisted sonics recently captured on disc. The beats can get even crazier when Jeremy Gustin’s drums are in the mix; otherwise, he holds this beast to the rails while it thrashes to break free and leap into the nearest abyss.

The album opens with the possibly sardonically titled Frontman, Syversen playing sort of a “charge” theme over percussive, trebly guitar skronk. As is the case frequently here, the drums crash in, the guitar goes nuts – and then it’s over. A staggered, off-kilter stomp with Balkan overtones, Weird Science sounds like a sketch that Slavic Soul Party might have abandoned because it was too crazy even for them, especially as the guitar careens and roars. Bad Idea contrasts pensive, terse trumpet against gingerly stumbling guitar underneath, finally exploding in a ball of chromatic fury and then back down again. Naylor cools the embers with sheets of reverb-drenched white noise.

The fourth track, Untitled, begins with a creepy minimalist Bill Frisell guitar taqsim and gets even weirder: even Syversen’s pensive, sostenuto trumpet can’t normalize this one. Krazzle works a long noise-funk crescendo up to a macabre trill, all the way down through a shower of amplifier sparks to virtual stillness – and suddenly they’re back at it. End of Time turns a playful trumpet-and-guitar conversation into a memorably nasty confrontation and another effective quiet/insane dialectic; From the Abyss has Syversen craftily dodging everything Naylor and Gustin can hurl at him, which is a lot, all the way down to a netherworld where a richly and unexpectedly beautiful minor-key art-rock song assembles itself and then eventually fades. It’s the most counterintuitive and richly satisfying passage in the entire album. There’s also the aptly titled Apparition, a study in percussion on all available instruments; Fried Fruit, a twisted funk tune, and the bonus track, Talk, which hints at minor-key janglerock before going completely off the rails with several blasts of guitar fury and finally a brutal, bodyslamming crescendo. The louder you play this, the more exhilarating it is. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Watch this space for upcoming shows.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Eric Vloeimans and Florian Weber at the Stone, NYC 6/9/09

Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and German pianist Florian Weber treated a warmly receptive, full house to a fascinating, tuneful show that managed to be both cutting-edge and rich with jazz classicism. Vloeimans does not limit himself to his instrument’s traditional tones: while showing off both soaring clarity and a burred, rustic attack, he would frequently open a piece seemingly almost without embouchure (the pursed-lips position inside a horn’s mouthpiece) for a breathy, sax-like timbre. In places, it was as if there was a musical steampipe in the band. Likewise, Weber would frequently go inside the piano and judiciously pluck the strings for a banjo-like tone. On their last song, he went so far as to take off the newsboy cap he’d been wearing throughout the show, placed it inside on top of the strings and used it as mute, adding an impressive dynamic range to his plucking: this hat trick may be a standard part of his act.

Their first number worked the theme of a popular Indian folksong with often hypnotic shades of trumpet while Weber chose his spots to add incisive, minimalistic plucked notes. By contrast, a vintage Dave Brubeck tune got a glistening, gently crescendoing treatment, Vloeimans showing off some purist blues chops. They brought up drummer Ziv Ravitz, who would stick around for the rest of the show, launching into what Vloeimans said was a response to Buena Vista Social Club, clattering along with seemingly every bit of metal on the drum kit put to use while piano and trumpet shifted the groove to tango swing.

A beautifully lyrical, balmy trumpet tune with absolutely gorgeous, vintage 70s art-rock piano inflections (Rick Davies of Supertramp in particularly heartwrenching mode comes to mind) was followed by an effectively comedic number titled Bradshaw, inspired, said Vloeimans, by the sight of a bizarre-looking utility vehicle in an airport terminal. It was all about incongruity, and the band brought it all out with numerous amusingly jarring stylistic nonsequiturs, the drummer hamming it up with the most four-on-the-floor beat the club had probably ever seen while Vloeimans swung overhead, seemingly oblivious. They closed with a piece titled Fatima, not a Middle Eastern dance but a big, soulful, trad ballad, Vloeimans finally cutting loose and letting its crescendos ring out for all they were worth.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Center City Brass Quintet at Trinity Church, NYC 3/19/09

A dazzlingly innovative performance by old college friends representing at least three major symphony orchestras – Buffalo, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh – who come together occasionally to push the envelope. The Center City Brass Quintet are a brass ensemble that doesn’t blare: to say that the subtlety and sensitivity they bring to their music is virtually unknown might be obvious, but it’s true all the same. This is not an under-the-radar group – their recordings are popular, and rightfully so – but they don’t play live all that often. So yesterday’s show was something of a rare treat. The quintet – two trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba – opened with their trumpeter Tony DiLorenzo’s Fire Dance, a smoothly crescendoing piece that builds off an eerie Balkan two-chord vamp: Bach goes to Bulgaria, maybe? They followed with two richly beautiful transcriptions of Bach organ works, a Fantasie with the tuba perfectly substituting for the low bass pedal, and the famous, darkly minor-key Contrapunctus IX maintaining a stately, powerfully ambient tone. With the added nuance and dynamics of five individual players, there was a special plaintiveness to the music. More brass bands should try this.

 

A quintet by British composer – and trumpet player – Malcolm Arnold (who wrote the Academy Award-winning score to Bridge Over the River Kwai) was next, warm and consonant through an allegro section driven by staccato tuba, then its chaconne section, an eerie dirge rising to a big crescendo. Its third movement moved swiftly and smoothly, the trumpets propelling it with fast arpeggiated triads, then perfectly executed melismas, all the way through to a strikingly quiet ending.

 

Another DiLorenzo composition, Go, was a showcase in cool freneticism, echoing Mingus with its scurrying polyrhythms and call-and-response between the highs and lows. By contrast, tuba composer and University of Wisconsin/Madison professor John Stevens’ Autumn (from his own Seasons suite) was a calm, somewhat nocturnal reflection. After an otherwise forgettable suite of Leonard Bernstein showtune arrangements, the group finally aired out the place with a joyous New Orleans march. It may be awhile before the group comes back to town, considering how busy the members are with their own individual gigs, but a return engagement will definitely be something to look forward to. In the meantime, since the church archives its concerts, you can watch this one in its entirety here.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment