Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Irresistible, Cleverly Sardonic Fun with Uri Caine and the Lutoslawski Quartet

If you missed pianist Uri Caine with the Lutoslawski Quartet at National Sawdust last night, you missed a really fun show. Caine is one of the great wits in music, a category-defying player equally adept at jazz, classical and klezmer. He’d been commissioned by the organizers of the Jazztopad Festival to collaborate with the enterprising Polish string quartet, and the results were obviously contagious. In between numbers, cellist Maciej Miodawski couldn’t resist breaking into a smile, and while his bandmates – violinists Marcin Marcowic and Bartocz Woroch, and violist Artur Rozmyslowicz – were more stoic, there was no mistaking the cameraderie between the five players onstage. An album of their work over the past year together, both in Poland and the US, is due out soon.

The performance was about album-length, half a dozen pieces in total clocking in at around the fifty minute mark. Caine nimbly negotiated long, rapidfire cascades and arpeggiated flurries, interspersed with seemingly haphazard leaps and bounds that sounded like improvisation even though they were obviously not: this group keeps it fresh. Meanwhile, the quartet alternated between gracefully paced circular motives, steady pizzicato and shiftting sheets of atmospherics.

And Caine’s signature sense of humor was ubiquitous: in the wry round-robin of pizzicato that concluded one number, a similarly droll series of glissandos later on, and in the surrealistic juxtaposition of gleaming, Schubertian neoromanticism and increasingly errant variations that were sort of a more elegant take on what Spike Jones might have done with the theme. Caine led the group into the most trad piece of the night, lowlit with his barrelhouse lefthand and gospel allusions, to close the show  The crowd roared for an encore; they didn’t get one .

What was a little surprising was the choice of venue. National Sawdust has world-class sonics and is a perennially enjoyable place to take in a show. On the other hand, the expat Polish community a little to the north and west in Greenpoint is fiercely supportive of their indigenous sounds. A guy as far out as Tomasz Stanko can sell out any one of the wedding halls there. Considering the size of the Polish contingent that made it to this one, the crowd would have tripled in size closer to Greenpoint Avenue.

June 27, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Jazzfest 2015, Night One: More and Less Transcendent Moments

What’s the likelihood of seeing both the ICP Orchestra and Dave Douglas on the same night? If you’re at the Rotterdam Jazz Festival, that’s hardly out of the question. And that’s why, despite its many issues, Winter Jazzfest is always worth coming out for.

“We’re the Instant Composers Pool, from Amsterdam,” bassist Ernst Glerum almost gleefully told the crowd who’d gathered close to the stage yesterday evening at le Poisson Rouge for a rare US appearance by the ten-piece surrealistic swing unit. That pun is intentional: their closest US counterpart is the Microscopic Septet, although where the two groups share an irrepressible wit, the Instant Composers are heftier and a lot trippier, given to absurdist call-and-response, round robin hijinks that can either be deadpan or completely over the top, and long dissociative interludes. There was plenty of that in their all-too-brief, roughly 45-minute set, but there was also a lingering, disquieted, crepuscular quality as well.

When he wasn’t dancing around the stage and directing split-second bursts from the horns and the reeeds, cellist Tristan Honsinger traded incisively airy lines with violinist Mary Oliver. Pianist Uri Caine, subbing for octogenarian legend Misha Mengelberg – chilling back in Holland – stayed pretty much within himself while the horns pulsed and sputtered and then pulled together with a wistfully ambered gleam. Extrovert drummer Han Bennink – who has more than a little Mel Taylor in him – threw elbows and jabs on his toms to keep the audience on their toes, especially in the most trad moments. What distinguishes this crew from the other satirical acts out there is their command of swing, and the gravitas that was in as full effect as the comedic bits. The audience screamed for an encore and were treated to a tantalizingly austere, string-driven miniature.

Douglas is another guy who infuses his music with plenty of wit, if it’s more on the dry side. On a night where a lot of the best acts were off limits, interminable lines stretching down the sidewalk outside several venues, what a treat it was to go up the stairs into Judson Church to see the trumpeter doing his usual mix of melodic splendor along with the pastoral soul that’s become part and parcel for him lately. Pianist Matt Mitchell colored both the Americana and the spiritual-based material with an upper-register, reflecting-pool gleam as Douglas and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts ranged from homespun reflection to judiciously placed flurries of bop. Both bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston kept their cards close to the vest as the rhythms would stray outside and then return to within the lines. And how cool was it to watch Royston feel the room, letting its natural reverb do the heavy lifting throughout his shuffles and spirals? Extremely. The highlight of the set was JFK: The Airport – “Not an endorsement,” Douglas said emphatically – a bristling, hypercaffeinated clave-cinema theme whose understated exasperation, channeled by Douglas and guest trumpeter Avishai Cohen, was characteristically spot-on.

Because Winter Jazzfest has such an embarrasment of riches to choose from, it’s hard not to be greedy: when an enticing set is sold out, as many tend to be, you have to be resourceful and willing to roll with the punches. Marc Ribot’s set with a string section at one of the off-Broadway theatres had a ridiculously long line of hopefuls waiting in vain to get in. But back at the church, Battle Trance were more than an impromptu Plan B: what a revelation the tenor sax quartet – Travis Laplante, Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner – turned out to be. Beginning with barely a whisper, negotiating their way calmly and envelopingly through a baroque-tinged, cleverly polyrhythmic, interlocking minimalist sonic lattice, they rose to a mighty exchange of glisses (Coltrane would call them arpeggios), an understated display of extended technique and circular breathing. Throughout their set, they literally breathed as a single entity. In its most vigorous moments, their performance had the same raw power and chops that bass saxophonist Colin Stetson showed off at last year’s festival.

As for the rest of the night, there seemed to be more non-jazz acts than usual on the bill. An ensemble playing a Donald Byrd tribute opened for the ICPs, vamping on a chord or two, one of the jams sounding like a bluesier take on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky. Which wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t jazz either. Up the block, Brandee Younger – who’s made a lot of waves at her recent slate of shows at Minton’s uptown, being heralded as the next Dorothy Ashby – shared the stage with a tightly swinging if generic funk band whose own vamps subsumed the jazz harpist’s tersely ringing, starkly blues-drenched phrasing. There was no small irony in the fact that even such a stereotypically Bleecker Street band would have probably had a hard time getting a gig there under usual circumstances, considering their slightly unorthodox instrumentation. Perish the thought that the Jersey tourists would have to contend with something they’d never heard before. “Is that a hwawp?”

Winter Jazzfest continues tonight, Saturday, Jan 10 starting a little after six PM: ticket pickup starts a half-hour beforehand at Judson Church. If you’re going you’d best get there on time.

January 10, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, 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