Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Slinky, Sophisticated Organ Jazz That Might Have Slipped Under the Radar

Dr. Pam Popper, who has emerged as one of the brightest lights  since the 2020 lockdown, has made a big deal of the fact that no matter how disturbing the current situation becomes, we can’t afford to let our joie de vivre be stolen from us. And what’s better to lift our spirits than funky organ jazz? Jared Gold, one of the most sophisticated organists in that demimonde, is leading a trio tomorrow night, June 22 at Smalls, with sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Gold has put out plenty of good albums of his own: his 2012 release Golden Child is the most distinctive and in its own defiantly thorny way, maybe the best of the bunch. A record that’s probably closer to what he’s likely to deliver in a venue like Smalls is guitarist Dave Stryker‘s slinky but urbane Baker’s Circle, streaming at Bandcamp (Gold has been Stryker’s main man on organ for quite awhile). Like a lot of albums that came out during the dead zone of the winter of 2021, it’s flown under the radar, which is too bad because it’s a great party record.

The first of Stryker’s originals here is the opening track, Tough – a briskly shuffling, catchy, soul-infused Styker original full of precise, warmly bending guitar lines, bright tenor sax from Walter Smith III and subtle flashes from across drummer McClenty Hunter’s kit. Gold stays on track with the band in his solo, with his steady blues riffage.

There’s lithely tumbling latin flair in the second track, El Camino, matched by Smith’s precise, chromatic downward cascades, Stryker’s drive toward a spiraling attack and a tantalizingly brief Gold solo.

Smith and Gold harmonize tersely over the tricky syncopation of Dreamsong, the bandleader channeling a late 50s soul-jazz vibe over lurking, resonant organ. They make tightly strutting swing out of Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, with carefree yet judicious lines from both the bandleader and then Gold. The lone Gold tune here is the aptly titled, scampering Rush Hour, with rambunctious solos from Smith and then Stryker.

The quartet rescue Leon Russell’s early 70s tune Superstar from the circle of hell occupied by groups like the Carpenters, then launch into the title track, the last of the Stryker originals. No spoilers about what jazz classic that one nicks: percussionist Mayra Casales adds subtle boom to the low end.

Likewise, they play Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues as a tightly straight-up clave tune with Stryker’s spikiest work here, Gold’s edge in contrast with Smith’s balmy approach. Stryker finally goes for Wes Montgomery homage in Love Dance, by Ivan Lins. They close the record with Trouble (No. 2), a reworking of the old Lloyd Price hit that while short of feverish, owes a lot to Peggy Lee.

If you’re wondering what the album title refers to, it’s a shout-out to Stryker’s mentor and guitar teacher David Baker.

June 21, 2022 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Connie Han Brings Her Relentless, Uneasy Urban Bustle to Birdland

If you follow jazz, you may have been put off by the way pianist Connie Han has been marketed. But musically, there’s no denying that she hit the ground running with her debut album Crime Zone, streaming at youtube. The album title reflects her relentless, hard-hitting attack, fondness for disquieting modes and bustling vamps that sometimes inch over the line into urban noir. And her career is still young: she’s got plenty of room to grow. She’s playing Birdland on Jan 12 at 5:30 PM; you can get a bar seat for $30.

The album opens with Another Kind of Right, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III dancing tensely between the raindrops, either in front of the band or in tandem with trumpeter Brian Swartz over Han’s icepick chords. Even when she switches abruptly to Rhodes midway through, the snap of Edwin Livingston’s bass and swing of Han’s frequent co-writer Bill Wysaske’s drums save the tune from falling off the edge into fusion territory.

The album’s title track pounces hard, the bandleader indulging in some wry polyrhythms before pulling the music down into a dark reflecting pool. Then Smith brings it up again, incisively, to a long (some might say overlong) series of bluesy Han cascades. The allusive, wary modalities in By the Grace of God more than hint at a narrow escape in contrast to Smith’s gritty, genial upper-register riffage; Han eventually drives it into sunnier territory.

Her eerie belltones and Smith’s microtonalities, and the two’s moody conversation to wind out the song, help elevate Sondheim’s Pretty Women above the level of Broadway schlock. As hard-charging as Southern Rebellion is, it takes awhile before Han rises beyond standard blues and postbop tropes; Wysaske takes it down into some misterioso press rolls before one of the false endings that Han loves so much.

Gruvy is an expansive Rhodes tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the later Steely Dan playbook. The album’s arguably best numnrt is a solo piece, the determined, grimly clustering quasi-boogie A Shade of Jade: with this kind of intensity, who needs a band?

The solidly strolling swing tune Member This is another number that brings to mind Donald Fagen, but the 1970s version. Is That So? Looks back to Dizzy Gillespie’s early adventures with samba rhythms, with some welcomely spacious playing from both Smith and Han. They close the album with the edgy, racewalking Extended Stay, Han coyly accenting a balletesuqe bass solo. When Han reaches the point where she can take extended solos without falling back on a lot of well-worn chromatic and blues runs, she could be dangerous.

January 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment