Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

New Faces Bring Their Cutting-Edge Postbop Party to the Jazz Standard

Every so often a record label puts together a house band that actually works. Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and Fred Below made Chess what they were in the 50s – and got virtually nothing for it Twenty years later, Fania threw all their solo acts together into one mighty, sprawling salsa orchestra. These days, there’s the Mack Avenue Super Band, and most recently, Posi-Tone Records’ New Faces, a serendipitously edgy lineup of rising star New York jazz talent. Tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss just released The Future Is Female, a brooding broadside that might be the best jazz album of 2018. Vinnie Sperrazza, who could be the best New York jazz drummer not named Rudy Royston, holds fort behind the kit in tandem with ubiquitous bassist Peter Brendler. The reliably ambitious Behn Gillece plays vibraphone, joined by Theo Hill on piano and Josh Lawrence on trumpet. They’re playing the album release show for their aptly titled debut, Straight Forward – streaming at Posi-Tone – at the Jazz Standard this July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $25.

Wtth two exceptions, the compositions are all by members of the Posi-Tone family. The group open with Jon Davis’ bitingly swinging Happy Juice, setting the stage with only slightly restrained jubilance amid harmonic dualities between vibes and piano and also the horns. Lots of contrast between upbeat solos and a darker undercurrent.

Gillece contributes three tunes. The first, Down the Pike is truth in advertising, a briskly shuffling motorway theme lit up by sparkling vibes and piano, judicious sax and trumpet spirals. Vortex has a lustre that rises from the writer’s subdued, lingering intro with hints of Brazil, both Coss and Gillece maintaining an enigmatic edge throughout expansive solos. The last number, Follow Suit is a platform for scurrying soloing in turn over Sperrazza’s counterintuitive charge.

Lawrence is represented by two numbers. He infuses the briskly pulsing Hush Puppy with volleys and glissandos, playing with a mute, echoed by the rest of the band. Frederico, a coyly shadowy cha-cha, is the album’s funnest track: the relaxed/uptight tension between Gillece and Hill is a hoot.

Brian Charette’s West Village is a comfortable, tourist-free stroll – a wish song, maybe? – with wistful muted work from Lawrence and nimble pointillisms from Gillece. With Lawrence in cozily jubilant mode, I’m OK, by Art Hirahara has the feel of a late Louis Armstrong number. Preachin’, by Jared Gold – who like Charette has really developed a brand-new vernacular for the organ – has a laid-back gospel-inspired swing. It’s the big hum-along here.

No matter how many distractions the soloists provide in a rather cinematic take of Herbie Hancock’s King Cobra, Hill’s piano is relentless. And Edwing’s Delilah Was a Libra offers a vampy platform for solos as well. If you missed the days when jazz was urban America’s default party music – and most of us did – this is for you.

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July 22, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stephanie Chou’s Chinese Jazz Shifts the Paradigm at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center booked Stephanie Chou and her quartet to celebrate International Women’s Day. They couldn’t have made a more imaginative choice. Chou is a strong singer with an unadorned mezzo-soprano, a strong saxophonist and a brilliantly individualistic composer who’s shifting the paradigm, blending Chinese themes from over the centuries with jazz, classical and more than a little rock in places. Her show last night drew heavily from her latest, innovative album, Asymptote. Her music is relevant, and lyrical, and amazingly eclectic, typical of the programming here lately.

The concert began with Isamu McGregor’s pointillistic, twinkling upper-register piano, joined by Andy Lin’s stark erhu fiddle. Then in a split second he picked up his viola and plucked out a spiky pizzicato riff before returning to the erhu as In the Moon You’ll See My Heart, a new version of the famous 1970s Teresa Teng Chinese pop hit, picked up steam.

Chou picked up her alto sax for General’s Command, reinventing an old Fujianese zither song as hard-hitting, kinetic postbop with more than a hint of gospel, Lin’s violin adding shivery ambience behind Chou’s calm, resolute melody.

“We’re gonna switch gears a little bit,” the college math major and bandleader explained, introducing the lustrous title cut from the new album. “The more you look the less you really see,” she sang: the enveloping, enigmatic sweep of the sax, viola, piano and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s muted mallets on the toms dovetailed with the philosophical paradox it alludes to, two lines converging infinitely but never reaching the same point.

Quiet Night Thought – a tropically-tinged setting of a Li Bai poem – followed a similarly lush, distantly brooding nocturnal tangent, Chou singing in Chinese. Then they switched gears again: Lin’ s solo version of an old folk song about birds flutttered, and chirped ,and soared, but with a fluidity that would make any feathered friend jealous.

Chou illustrated Odysseus’ arduous journey home to his true love with Penelope, a haunting, crescendoing backbeat rock ballad fueled by Lin’s aching viola and a spiraling, smoky sax solo. It would have been a huge radio hit for an artsy band like the Alan Parsons Project thirty years ago.

Chou returned to Chinese with her vocals in Making Tofu – inspired by a funny proverb about an only slightly less arduous process – a moody jazz waltz with a gorgeous, sternly crescendoing meteor shower of a piano solo and ominously modal sax work. Who knew so much energy was required to make those innocuous little cubes!

She led the crowd in a Chinese tongue-twister – the gist of it was, “If you eat grapes you spit out the peel, if you don’t eat grapes then you don’t” – then scatted it as Sperrazza rattled his toms and woodblock. She got serious again with the somberly verdant, astringently crescendoing tonalities of In the Forest, inspired by Johann Stolting, a 19th scientist turned hermit and something of a tragic character in her Irvington, New York hometown

Chou’s latest project explores the struggles of the women forced into prostitution by the Japanese in World War II. The world premiere of Manchurian Girl, a reworking of a 1938 Chinese pop song, had a sardonic martial beat: the longing and disillusion in Chou’s voice was visceral and transcended any linguistic limitations. She followed with a dramatic ballad, McGregor’s lingering glitter contrasting with Lin’s insistent attack and closed with a brief tone poem of sorts, part Debussy and part stately Chinese folk.

The next jazz show at Lincoln Center the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is an especially amazing one, with ageless latin jazz piano icon Eddie Palmieri and his band on March 16 at 7:30 PM The show is free so get there early or else.

March 9, 2018 Posted by | concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smart Balkan-Tinged Tunesmithing and Improvisation from the Ben Holmes Quartet

Trumpeter Ben Holmes’ Quartet is one of those great bands that defies categorization. Rhythmically, they are most defnitely a jazz group; melodically, they encompass everything from Balkan music, to klezmer, to a cinematic sensibility, with plenty of improvisation and elements of both the high Romantic and the avant garde. Over the past couple of years, what began as a trio has expanded to a a quartet with trombonist Curtis Hasselbring (who’s got a typically wry, witty album of his own due out momentarily from Cuneiform), Matt Pavolka on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums.The group’s album Anvil of the Lord – Holmes’ second as a leader, just out from Skirl – doesn’t hammer anywhere near as hard as the the title suggests, but it is a mighty intriguing listen. Holmes has a fondness for shuffle beats along with impeccable tonal control, from an ambered gleam to rustic and gravelly, depending on context, adding tantalizing Eastern European spice to his warmly expansive melodies. Throughout the album, improvisation is drivem by a commitment to judicious exploration rather than anything remotely approaching a squawking free-for-all.

A Doodle For Rhapsody, a pensively altered klezmer shuffle anchored by Pavolka’s insistently suspenseful pedalpoint and tense, terse rising lines opens the album. Hasselbring brings a characteristic wryly bubbling touch to his firsr solo, shadowing Holmes on the way out. Magic Mondays waltzes along casually, Sperazza taking charge as the horn harmonies fall away for a similarly matter-of-fact, lyrical Holmes solo. The deceptively catchy Moving Like A Ghost shuffles and slips between minors and majors, with a transluscent, crystalline solo  from Holmes, Pavolka’s restless bounce underpinning the horns’ moodily rising lines and Sperrazza’s misterioso cymbals.

Kingston isn’t a reggae song but a rather wistful waltz, Holmes using just the faintest touch of a mute as he shifts from pensive to assertive, the band swirling up a stew as Hasselbring brings in southern-tinged heat. It’s one of many instances where holding the center is left to the bass while Sperrazza supplies color, in this case a nebulous cymbal ambience.

Otessianek hints at bossa nova as Pavolka and Hasselbring come together and then methodically take it into livelier klezmer territory over a hypnotic bass vamp. The title track opens with a tongue-in-cheek, effervescent bass solo and then an animated duel from the horns as Sperrazza kicks the smoke machine into high gear.

The moody, atmospheric ballad Malach Hamovi has Pavolka channeling Chopineque morosity with his stately, tiptoeing lines, Sperrazza bringing the shuffle back via a sardonic march. Song For Creel Thompson is a rather austere midtempo swing number; the album ends with Nada Vs Armitage,  the rhythm section walking the line between suspense and swing: and then the band goes for it wholehog with the nonchalant determination that permeates this expertly crafted collection. Holmes’ next gig with this unit is on March 12 at 7 PM at Barbes, setting the stage for Slavic Soul Party’s mighty brass assault.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment