Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rufus Reid’s Big Band Delivers Sophistication and Tradition at the Jazz Standard

There was a lot of fun onstage last night at the Jazz Standard. There was a downwardly spiraling, menacingly chromatic Freddie Hendrix trumpet solo that might have been the higlight of the evening. There was an animated conversation between flugelhornist Scott Wendholt and pianist Steve Allee that emerged from two deep-space tangents. Guitarist Vic Juris supplied genially bubbling, melismatically warping interludes; tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson, bass clarinetist Carl Maraghi and trombonist Ryan Keberle took turns contributing judicious, purist, blues-infused lines when called on to take centerstage. But that’s the least of what was going on.

Big band jazz sometimes gets a rap for being simply a vehicle for solos: Phish with horns. And if you’ve got twenty people the caliber of the players in Rufus Reid‘s group, there’s no limit on where they can take the music. But despite the starpower on the bandstand, the large ensemble’s current stand here – which continues through March 1, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM – is all about compositions. Reid has a hall of fame career as a sideman, but in recent years he’s devoted himself to composing. Last night’s opening set was marked by gravitas, and depth, and lustrously shifting segments, most of the numbers taken from Reid’s vivid, politically aware album Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project.

Reid left no doubt how much inspiration he’s drawn from sculptor and visual artist Catlett’s defiant, symbolically loaded images of resistance and endurance, and the music reaffirmed that. Singer Charenee Wade got the most choice spots, capping off the crescendos with remarkably nuanced vocalese, her vibrato trailing off elegantly as her phrases wound out, sometimes in harmony with french hornists John Clark and Vincent Chancey, at other times over a lush bed of high reed textures. Drummer Chris Beck got to trigger a deviously amusing false ending or two while the bandleader, amped well up in the mix, pushed the ensemble with an understatedly funky pulse when he wasn’t swinging it hard or circling around with tersely minimalist, avant garde-tinged phrasing. Notwithstanding the album’s epic, classically tinged sweep and sophistication, this show reminded just how deeply Reid’s writing is rooted in the jazz tradition. Taking the time to assemble a big band is a herculean effort to begin with; that this group could play this music as tightly and passionately as they did is tribute to how inspiring Reid is as a composer and bandleader. Although last night’s shows appeared to be sold out, there are seats left for the rest of this weekend; reservations to 212-576-2232 are always a good idea here.

February 27, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bassist Rufus Reid Brings His Stunningly Intense Big Band to the Jazz Standard

One of the most exciting and highly anticipated stands by any jazz group in recent months is coming up at the Jazz Standard starting this Thursday, Feb 26 when venerable bassist Rufus Reid and his big band air out the songs on his magnificent latest album, Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (streaming at Spotify). They’re at the club through March 1, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is $30 ($35 on the weekend). Even more auspiciously, pretty much everybody among the album’s all-star cast will be onstage for all the shows.

The album is a lush, ambitious suite inspired by the striking, historically and politically-themed sculptures of Elizabeth Catlett. An inspiration to the civil rights movement, Catlett’s work embodies traditions and themes from both Africa and the west: her images are uncluttered, often very stark and while often optimistic, also have a withering subtext. Like Catlett’s sculptures, Reid’s music here – which draws directly on six of them – has a frequently persistent unease. The sophistication and acerbic colors of his compositions and arrangements are all the more impressive considering that this is his first adventure in writing for large ensemble – and that he is still best known as a sideman. That perception has definitely changed in the past year!

Although ostensibly divided into individual pieces, the album is best appreciated as a whole: a jazz symphony, essentially. A big, ominous, cinematically sweeping theme that will recur throughout the suite kicks it off, gives way to a broodingly vamping jazz waltz that picks up with a turbulently funky groove and blustery brass, then down to the rhythm section, Freddie Hendrix’ muted trumpet bringing it full circle. Reid utilizes Charenee Wade’s lustrous vocalese much like Asuka Kakitani did with Sara Serpa on her album a couple of years ago; the addition of two french horns adds both brightness and heft.

Throughout the rest of the album, Reid himself adds the occasional soberly dancing interlude. Guitarist Vic Juris plays both incisive flamenco lines on acoustic as well as adding bubbly electric textures. The brass section rises dramatically with a majestically ambered, blues-infused gravitas, Wade often changed with hitting the top of the peaks as well as supplying nebulous washes to the quieter sections. Reid allows for animated free interludes, pairing brass and piano or drums, then swings his way back to a precise theme. Trumpeter Tim Hagans and trombonist Ryan Keberle get to take it to the top of the mountain as a triumphant coda develops. It’s everything big band jazz can be: towering, majestic, unselfconsciously powerful and cutting-edge. Catlett, who died three years ago, would no doubt be proud.

February 24, 2015 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

Intense, Gripping Jazz from Tim Hagans

Jazz trumpeter Tim Hagans has a hard-hitting, darkly intense, frequently noir new album, The Moon Is Waiting, just out on Palmetto. Hagans is a cerebral, uncompromising artist who dedicates himself to creating emotionally impactful music. As he sees it (he goes on at considerable length about this at his site), art might be the most powerful weapon we have against fascism. This record doesn’t seem to have any specific political meaning or message, but it delivers both dark and lighter emotions, and unexpected humor, in equally strong doses. It’ll inspire you to at the very least remember that having music like this is a right worth fighting for.

Alongside Hagans, Vic Juris plays guitar with tremendous, purist eclecticism, frequently reaching back to the 60s, and also to that era’s blues and rock, for tones and riffage. Rufus Reid on bass and Jukkis Uotila on drums swing hard through Hagans’ knotty, shapeshifting tempos and themes; Uotila also contributes tersely lyrical, somewhat brooding piano as well.

One real knockout here is the title track, straight out of the JD Allen school of intensity except for the fact that it’s about about six minutes long. Essentially, it’s just one long intro that keeps the suspense up and doesn’t let go. Hagans plays ominous chromatics over moody minor guitar chords; the background grows disassociative as the trumpet growls, disappears for a bit, comes back in warily and then shivers and screams over the warped, choppy waves behind him. Reid struggles briefly but memorably against the current before finally going under.

Ornette’s Waking Dream of a Woman is less Ornette than Taxi Driver theme, syncopated 70s noir cinematics that rumble in lockstep, slowly diverge, slither back and then give Juris the first of many moments to brighten the mood with some wry blues, which Hagans spins around and sends scurrying into the shadows again. They keep it noir with Get Outside, Hagans in pensive, spacious Miles mood over a tense minimalist piano/bass hook. Soon it goes starlit with solo piano, then takes on a surreal edge that resolves with surprising warmth once Juris gets ahold of it and rocks out a burning, ascending riff that Hagans drives triumphantly through the checkered flag.

What I’ll Tell Her Tonight is the funniest number here, and it’s a gem. It’s not clear who Hagans or his bandmates might be talking to or what they might say to her: what’s clear is that they’ve all been up to no good. Juris begins perfectly deadpan, talking a lot and saying absolutely nothing that has to be said; Hagans knows he’s done wrong but the band won’t let on, tiptoeing while the trumpet eventually goes all mealymouthed. There are other LOL moments here but none quite like this one.

The rest of the album alternates between apprehension and high spirits. Boo begins with deviously watery 80s chorus-box guitar, takes on an easygoing funk feel to the point where Reid lays down a sly solo of his own before once again – there’s a pattern here – Hagans amps up the suspense and the surveillance is on again. Wailing Trees is a darkly bracing mini-suite, a smartly crafted study in passing the anchor between band members as well as balancing tonal colors, drums vs. trumpet or guitar vs. bass. Likewise, Things Happen in a Convertible shifts from swing to quiet tension – particularly during a brilliantly methodical, spacious Reid solo – and then back and forth a couple of times, capped by some delicious chromatic runs by Hagans. He plays songs from this album with most of the same crew here this Thursday the 20th at 6 (six) PM at Birdland – if melodic jazz is your thing and your schedule allows, it’s a show you ought to catch.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dave Liebman Big Band’s New Album Is Gripping As Always

As Always, the new album by the Dave Liebman Big Band is characteristically rich and diverse, emphasizing lively interplay and striking, upbeat charts played by a first-class ensemble under the direction of saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad. Recorded live in concert in 2005 and 2007 in Colorado and Ohio, it features as many as nineteen players including longtime Liebman associates Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, Marko Marcinko on drums, Jim Ridl on keys and Scott Reeves (who also arranged a couple of the numbers here) on trombone and alto flugelhorn. Liebman’s soprano sax – and occasional flute – sail brightly over the dynamic arrangements. As much as this is a big band album, parts of it are remarkably quiet, which only enhances the intensity when they’re all going full tilt.

It opens with the aptly titled A Bright Piece, soprano sax swirls over big swells, to a funky groove with latin-tinged piano. This group has a sense of humor, a quality that rears its head frequently throughout this set, in this case the use of the bass clarinet soberly introducing a new variation after a bubbly Liebman solo. The title track is intimate despite the frequently blazing charts, with a pensively cinematic buildup to a lyrical ballad dynamics. Its more reflective sections between the big crescendos feature some particularly vivid interplay between Liebman and the piano or guitar.

Anubis is a showcase for the rich, chromatic intensity that Liebman has always excelled at, with some tremendoulsy interesting, subtly shapeshifting work by Marcinko behind the kit, moving almost imperceptibly from a clatter to a rumble. Liebman’s snakecharmer flute intro gets a slinky response from Jeff Nelson’s bass trombone, the band offering tinges of flamenco, funk and finally a baritone sax-driven groove where Liebman, back on soprano, goes flying over it. New Breed, an early 70s tune Liebman did with the Elvin Jones Group is genial, aggressive, cinematic postbop with cameos from just about everybody in the band and plenty of hard-driving, gritty Liebman work that feeds the flames for the rest of the crew to fan joyously.

Inspired by a Monet painting, Philippe Under the Green Bridge is as robust as a tone poem can get, another vivid example of Liebman’s wary chromatics with Charles Pillow on oboe adding an understatedly insistent, apprehensive edge before the fireworks begin and Liebman takes over. The album ends with Turn It Around, a tricky exercise in rhythmic interplay with a wry, twangy Juris solo. Liebman is currently on a five-day stand through 9/11 at Birdland at 8:30 and 11 PM with Steve Kuhn (piano), Steve Swallow (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums). Then he’s at the Blue Note on 9/13; playing the cd release show for his new small-combo cd on 9/17 at 55 Bar, and then the big cd release show for this one with the big band at Iridium on 10/6. Lots of chances to see a guy whose vitality and relevance has never dimmed over the course of a forty-year career.

September 7, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment