Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Tasty, Catchy, Swinging Vibraphone Album from Behn Gillece

Continuing yesterday’s theme about top-drawer jazz artists playing some unlikely spaces here in town, today’s is vibraphonist Behn Gillece, who’s doing a live rehearsal of sorts, leading a quartet at the Fat Cat on Jan 2 at 9 PM. You can be there to witness it for the three bucks that it takes to get into the pool hall – if you don’t mind the random polyrhythms of sticks hitting balls and some other background noise, you’d be surprised how many quality acts pass through here when they’re not headlining a place like Smalls, which is Gillece’s regular spot when he’s in town.

His 2010 Little Echo album with frequent collaborator Ken Fowser on tenor sax is one of the most tuneful, enjoyable postbop releases of recent years. Gillece’s previous album Mindset was considerably more ambitious, and on the knotty side; his latest one, Dare to Be – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is a welcome return to form.

The album’s opening track, Camera Eyes begins as a sparkly ballad, shades of early 70s Milt Jackson until the rhythm section – Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums – kicks in and then they’re off on a brightly shuffling, distantly Brazilian-tinged tangent. Gilllece’s shimmering lines cascade over a similarly brisk shuffle groove in From Your Perspective, Bruce Harris’ trumpet taking a more spacious approach.

Tiemann’s snowstorm cymbals push the 6/8 ballad Amethyst along, gently, Radley channeling some deep blues, Gillece just as judicious and purposeful. The group picks up the pace but keeps the singalong quality going with the lickety-split swing of Signals, Radley and Gillece adding percolating solos: the subtle variations Gillece makes to the head are especially tasty. His intricate intro to Drought’s End hardly gives away how straight-ahead and understatedly triumphant Harris’ trumpet and Radley’s guitar will be as it hits a peak.

The first of the two covers here. Bobby Hutcherson’s Same Shame is done as a crescendoing, enigmatically scrambling quasi-bossa, echoed in the goodnaturedly pulsing, tropical grooves of Gillece’s. Live It. The album’s anthemic title track grooves along on a brisk clave beat: it’s the closest thing to the lush life glimmer of Little Echo here.

The last of Gillece’s originals, Trapezoid is a rapidfire shuffle: Tiemann’s counterintuitively accented drive underneath the bandleader’s precise ripples and Radley’s steady chords is as fun as it is subtle. The album winds up with a gently resonant take of Johnny Mandel’s ballad A Time For Love, looking back to both the Milt Jackson and Buddy Montgomery versions. Fans of engaging, ringing, tuneful music in general, as well as the jazz vibraphone pantheon spanning from those guys, to Hutcherson, to Gary Burton have a lot to enjoy here. If Gillece wasn’t already on this map, this has put him there to stay.

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December 27, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tony Moreno Reclaims His Life After the Hurricane with an Epically Tuneful New Album

What do you do when a storm takes everything you own? You buckle down and create a new body of work. That’s what Tony Moreno did. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed his compositions, and drums, and even memorabilia from his famous harpist mother, Nina Dunkel Moreno, the drummer/composer took a monthly residency at 55 Bar and worked up enough new material for an epic new double album, Short Stories, streaming at Spotify. Moreno’s compositions here tend to be on the lavish side, running seven or eight minutes at a clip: this album really feels like a couple of live sets. Uneasily clustering, distantly Lennie Tristano-ish piano is livened by expressive and sometimes explosive playing: Moreno comes off sobered if ultimately none the worse for all the trauma. It’s a chance to hear pianist Jean-Michel Pilc deliver some of his most otherworldly thrilling work and witness tenor saxophone powerhouse Marc Mommaas in unexpectedly rapturous mode alongside lyrical trumpeter Ron Horton, perennially popular bassist Ugonna Okegwo and Moreno swinging behind his new drumkit. Moreno and his group are back at 55 Bar this Wednesday, Dec 15 at 7 PM.

Moreno got a start on piano as a youngster but became a protege of Elvin Jones – with whom he later would share a stage, albeit on piano. Moreno is more chill than his mentor here, propelling the tunes with equal parts fire and finesse, drums up enough in the mix to capture his nuances without distracting from the whole. The album’s opening number, Foxy Trot (titles are not Moreno’s forte) opens with Pilc’s eerie, Mompou-esque belltones and quickly rises to a briskly floating swing with high-voltage solos from both Mommaas and Horton. By contrast, Mommaas’ ballad Little One features the saxophonist in rare, airy, delicate mode. The West’s Best juxtaposes Pilc’s Messiaenic gravitas with Horton’s similarly wary lines over Moreno’s elegant tumbles, then follow an increasingly gritty drive fueled by Mommaas and Pilc.

Errol Garner, a shout-out to the pianist, has a richly lingering unease carried by Pilc’s clustering lines and Mommaas’ enigmatically circling phrases. 55 Scotch builds from an acerbically catchy Frank Foster-ish hook to rapidfire swing and a neat handoff from Mommaas to Horton, Pilc playing good cop againt the bandleader’s blockbuster assault. Susan’s Dream is more of a lurking nightmare, through a surreal piano-bass dialogue, Mommass’ haggard solo turning it over to Okegwo’s misterioso ballet. It’s the album’s most harrowing number.

No Blues to You makes for a contrasting, lickety-split feature for Horton that Pilc pushes further into the shadows. The first disc closes with an expansively lush take of Ellington’s C Jam Blues punctuated by the occasional suspenseful pause.

Disc two opens with a similarly tender take of Kenny Wheeler’s Three for D’Reen and its judicious echo phrases. Oh, Henry, Moreno’s magnum opus here, shifts artfully in and out of waltz rhythm, Pilc’s glimmering neoromantic colors front and center, Horton’s blazing solo followed by an unexpectedly nebulous one from Mommaas and a triumphantly flickering outro. The band follows Grovelling, a lengthy, shapeshifting Horton vehicle, with the first of two versions of El Rey, a serpentine, majestic flamenco-jazz gem with that recalls Chano Dominguez.

M.O. follows a counterintuitive path downward from a bright opening into a spacious swing shuffle with solos all around, Pilc and Moreno each building back toward a big crescendo. Pueblo de Lagrimas is a return to slow, somber, latin-inflected majesty, lowlit by Pilc’s lyrical solo, Horton raising the ante while Moreno prowls and chooses his spots. The album wins up with the second take of El Rey, the king clearly back on top in what was once a very sad city.

December 13, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander McCabe’s Quiz Is the Fun Kind

What do you do when your popular ska-punk band reaches the end of the line? Play jazz, of course. That’s the answer alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe offers on his new album, Quiz. After his time with Warped Tour vets Mephiskapheles, he returned to his first love. This album, his third as a jazz bandleader, features him in brightly melodic, tunefully retro mode, backed by Uri Caine on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums (with Greg Hutchinson making the most of two tracks). Like his big influences, Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean, he puts the tunes front and center over any kind of ostentatious blowing which is always welcome to hear. It’s almost funny listening to Caine playing straight up, and not only competently, but obviously having a lot of fun doing it. Who knew he could actually stay in trad mode and not even hint at going outside.

They open with Weezie’s Waltz, a genuine charmer til McCabe decides to take it out a bit: Caine gets a solo and brings it back to home base lyrically with a wry bluesy grin, the last thing you’d expect, and it hits the spot. With Hutchinson aggressively punching in as it builds, Lonnegan, another original, is catchy, fast and swinging with some vivid Sonny Rollins echoes, McCabe working from bouncy to silvery glissandos and then back, Okegwo feeling the vibe and punching out his solo as matter-of-factly as the rest of the crew. A staggered, sunstreaked ballad, Kalido features a lumbering Hutchinson busting up Okegwo’s stealth operation, McCabe slithering up to see what happened in his absence. The title track works a long, brisk, stunningly melodic lead line up to a crescendo and then starts over again.

The band has a good time with Good Morning Heartache, taking their time making their way in, Royston doing his trademark rumble while McCabe goes blithely out on a limb, finally finding a modified bossa beat that rides gingerly on the rims. A comedic march theme, St. Pat is the freest moment here, Okegwo deviously taunting everyone to follow him as he solos. They wind it up with an expansive, goodnaturedly energetic version of How Little We Know that with a little less sonic clarity would be a dead ringer for the McLean band at their peak. Great fun, inspired playing and not a bad song on the album.

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

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Ask, Your Place or Mine?

This is what the Mad Men soundtrack ought to sound like. On their new album Little Echo, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser and his vibraphonist cohort Behn Gillece have teamed up for an absolutely period-perfect, gorgeously melodic collection of golden age-style jazz. This is the kind of thing you can stump your jazz snob friends with: guess which 1959 group this is? Maybe a previously unknown Chico Hamilton session with Hamp, maybe? Even the cd cover images and fonts come straight out of the late 50s Columbia catalog, and for anyone who owns actual physical albums from the era, they’re a dead giveaway. To call this boudoir jazz doesn’t give enough credit to the strength and intelligence of the compositions, but with the nocturnal ambience created by the intermingling of the piano and the vibes, it’s the jazz equivalent of Al Green or Sade. If there’s a population explosion among jazz fans in the next nine months or so, blame these guys. Here Fowser and Gillece – who wrote all but two of the compositions – are joined here by Rick Germanson on piano, the ubiquitously reliable Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Quincy Davis on drums.

The genius of the songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – is their simplicity: the “jukebox jazz” label recently applied to JD Allen’s recent stuff aptly describes this as well. The band set the tone right off the bat with the ridiculously catchy Resolutions, with brief and vivid solos by Fowser, Gillece and Germanson in turn. A Fowser composition, Ninety Five employs a slinky guaguanco vamp as the launching pad for some balmy sax work followed by a more aggressive turn by Gillece. The band pass the baton around on the next one: Gillece plays a horn line, Germanson scurries along and Fowser bounces off the bass and drums.

The dreamy ballad The Dog Days is a showcase for Fowser sultriness, Germanson impressionism and a hypnotic, slow Gillece solo over steady piano. Upbeat latin tinges and a soaring sax hook give the next cut, Vigilance, a summery blissfulness. Germanson anchors the deliciously noir-tinged latin jazz of the title track as Fowser prowls around on the low notes: the utterly carefree, closing-time style piano solo might be the most vivid moment on the entire album. Fowser’s One Step at a Time offers more than a hint of Gil Evans era Miles Davis; Gillece’s ballad You mines some choicely pensive modalities on the way to the blues; the closing cut Another View works a shameless So What quote into the wee-hours bliss of the opening track.Marc Free’s production goes back to the golden age as well – he doesn’t overcompress the vibes or the piano and puts Okegwo’s tireless bass walks up just high enough that you appreciate all those tireless walks, without making it sound like hip-hop. It’s out now on Posi-Tone Records.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment