Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Zoh Amba Brings Her Thoughtful Intensity to a Brooklyn Gig

Tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba draws comparisons to Albert Ayler, but ultimately she’s her own animal, more influenced by the blues in a JD Allen vein. Isaiah Collier is also a reference point, but where he goes completely feral, Amba is more likely to reach for biting, sometimes acidic Jackie McLean incisions. Amba is leading a quintet with Matt Hollenberg on guitar, Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Marc Edwards on drums at Roulette on Sept 27 at 8 PM. You can get in for $25 in advance.

You can hear a little more than half of her latest album O Life, O Light at Bandcamp – unfortunately, the vinyl of this killer trio session with bassist William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela is sold out. The opening number is Mother’s Hymn: variations on a somber, Birmingham-era Coltrane style theme stripped to its broodingly rustic oldtime gospel roots. Parker bows plaintive responses to Amba’s slow blues riffs as she rises to increasingly imploring intonations. Almost imperceptibly, she takes her blue notes further down toward calm as Mela raises the energy with hypnotic waves of echo effects while Parker fills a familiar role as rock-solid anchor. The interlude where he joins Mela’s vivid splashes against the shoreline is over way too soon The trio bring it full circle in almost fourteen understatedly intense minutes.

The second number, the title track, begins sort of a reverse image with hints of calypso and New Orleans echoes, but it isn’t long before Amba starts with the insistent, trilling motives as Mela builds concentric circles and Parker artfully expands his own modal terrain. Again, Amba brings the ambience back around to a solemn rusticity.

She switches to flute for Mountains in the Predawn Light, pulling back on the attack atop the rhythm section’s slinky chassis. With Mela’s judiciously colorful accents around the kit and every piece of hardware within reach, this is a GREAT drum-and-bass record. There’s also a brief bonus track, Satya reprising the initial theme where Amba cuts loose right off the bat. Finding the perfect balance between melody and squall is always daunting, but these three celebrate that here with purpose and cool triumph.

September 23, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

East First Street Is Positively the Place to Be For Jazz This Sunday

The series of free jazz concerts in Lower East Side parks this fall is an especially good one, and continues into the second week of October. One of the best of the bunch is this Sunday, Sept 25, starting at 1:30 PM with alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal – who’s also scheduled to take a rare turn on clarinet – joined by vocalist Jasmine Wilson and drummer Lesley Mok. Mittal is a beast, a ferociously dynamic improviser who’s immersed himself in both Indian and Middle Eastern music and is not to be missed. At 2:30 bassist William Parker takes a rare turn on sintir, percussion and double reeds alongside Hamid Drake on percussion, which promises to be a good, North African-inspired segue. Alexis Marcelo closes out the night on keys with Adam Lane on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums in the garden at 33 East 1st St.

As you might guess, the artist on the bill who’s most recently appeared on album is Parker: his discography is longer than some books. This could be wrong, but it looks like the latest addition to that body of work is Welcome Adventure Vol. 2, sixty percent of which is streaming at Bandcamp.

The generally august and terse bassist gets off to an unusual racewalking start in the opening number, Sunverified, in tandem with Matthew Shipp’s scampering, sunsplashed piano over drummer Gerald Cleaver’s tumbles and bright cymbals. Daniel Carter’s sax slowly expands from a balmy, anchoring role to biting modalities: lots of outside-the-box playing here.

Track two is Blinking Dawn, Carter blasting through the blinds by himself and having fun with harmonics before Cleaver comes knocking at the door. Shipp punches in hard as Carter’s clarinet floats sepulchrally in Mask Production – a reference to CDC pre-plandemic stockpiling, maybe? Parker’s fluttering and then tiptoeing approach signals Shipp’s equally phantasmagorical stroll. These guys have worked together since forever and this is one of the best things they’ve ever put on cassette (still available at the Bandcamp page!).

The first of the tracks you can only hear on that cassette, at least for now, is Wordwide, which the quartet begin as a lingering nocturnal tableau with Carter on sax, but Shipp is restless and that spreads to Cleaver. The contrast between Carter’s floating sax and Shipp’s elegantly sharp-teethed gearwheels is one of the album’s high points.

The closing number is Da Rest Is Story (good titles here, dudes), Cleaver’s slinky and increasingly animated groove underpinning Carter’s defiant microtonalities as Shipp mines his signature icy, starry modalities. The saxophonist’s mournful circles over the piano’s eerily insistent chime are another of this record’s many attractions – all of which would probably sell more cassettes if everyone could hear them.

September 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Motive Force Behind One of This Past Year’s Best Jazz Albums Plays His Home Turf

One of the great things about the ongoing free jazz series happening on the Lower East Side into the first week of October is that it’s an excuse to give a listen to some of the parade of artists passing through. One particularly good lineup is this Sept 17 in the community garden at 129 Stanton St just east of Essex, starting at 1:30 PM with Steve Swell on trombone, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and TA Thompson on drums. At 2:30 trumpeter Jaimie Branch brings her enveloping sound, followed at 3:30 by bassist Larry Roland’s Urban Project with keyboardist Kiyoko Layne, trumpeter Waldron Ricks and Thompson back on drums. Drummer Whit Dickey and alto saxophonist Rob Brown wind up the afternoon at 4:30.

Dickey also figures prominently in one of the most lustrously gorgeous jazz albums of the past year, Village Mothership – streaming at Spotify – with bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp. It’s a shout-out to the three’s East Village home turf via a methodical, often rather dark series of longscale pieces topping out at about the eleven minute mark.

The bandleader throws off playful cymbal flickers as Parker spaciously holds the center and Shipp quickly grows to his usual Loch Ness glimmer as the first tune, A Thing and Nothing takes shape, rising resolutely and steadily, then falling away to the stygian depths Shipp mines so well. A wry but disquieting descent ensues into a Twilight Zone of the piano. You could call much of the rest of this ten-minute joint Webernian swing.

Whirling in the Void is less a spin than a stern, emphatic, occasionally crushing modal exploration, Dickey and Shipp chopping the weeds in an abandoned East Village tenement foundation of the mind. When Shipp starts spiraling, Dickey’s judicious half-tumbles are there to catch anything that might fall.

Nothingness is not a John Cage piece but a defragged version of the previous number, clusters juxtaposed with gentle scrambles and hints of a famous Steely Dan theme, Parker dexterously maintaining various central pulses and finally percolating to the surface.

Dickey opens the album’s title track with a spare, nuanced, suspenseful solo before Shipp’s modalities drive it further into the obsidian; this time bass and drums switch roles, more or less sparingly, midway through. The album’s biggest thrill ride is Down Void Way, Parker’s frantic bowing above Shipp’s murky turbulence and variations on the album’s most memorably unsettled theme.

The closing number, Nothing and a Thing, is the most loosely tethered piece here, infused with a solemn bluesiness but also sardonic humor. It’s a clinic in the kind of enigmatic moodiness these three can conjure.

September 12, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Intense, Hauntingly Blues-Infused George Washington Carver Tribute From James Brandon Lewis

Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ forthcoming album Jesup Wagon – streaming at Spotify– comes across as the logical follow-up to JD Allen‘s withering, darkly erudite trio album, Americana. Both sax players plunge to the depths of the blues, typically in minor keys: Allen with his someday-iconic trio, Lewis with a quintet. Lewis’ album is more high-concept. It’s a series of tone poems in tribute to George Washington Carver, complete with some acerbic spoken word by the bandleader. In terms of concisely impactful, purposefully executed ideas, this is one of the best albums of the year.

He takes the album title from the agricultural wagon that Carver invented. He opens with the title track, a stark minor-key blues riff, meticulously modulated. Then he adds the extended technique and a wide palette of dynamics. The rhythm section – William Parker on bass and Chad Taylor on drums – enters with a jaunty shuffle, cornetist Kirk Knuffke taking a first flurrying solo. From there, Lewis expands on the blues with a purist growl

Parker switches to the magically incisive Moroccan sintir bass lute to join with cellist Chris Hoffman as a two-man bass section in the gnawa-inflected blues Lowlands of Sorrow: imagine a Randy Weston tune without the piano. Knuffke sounds the alarm, fires off biting chromatics and sets up the bandleader’s 5-7-1 riffage; the two duel it out memorably at the end.

The whole band exchange disquietly off-center harmonies but coalesce for insistent echo phrases as Taylor builds tumbling intensity in the third number, Arachis. Lewis’ smoky, squawking defiance in resisting a return to home base eventually inspires Knuffke to do the same; Parker is the rumbling voice of reason.

The marching dynamic is similar in Fallen Flowers, with strong echoes (in every sense of the word) of Civil Rights Era Coltrane. Hoffman chooses his spots, with and without a bow as Taylor keeps an altered hip-hop groove going with his pointillistic hits on the rims and hardware. Flutters and flurries agitate and disperse; Lewis sneaks a little faux backward masking in to see if anyone’s listening.

Knuffke and Hoffman trade steady, workmanlike lines as Experiment Station gets underway, ragtime through a very dark funhouse mirror. Lewis’ steely, rapidfire focus and fanged, trilling crescendo are the high point of the record. Knuffke’s Balkan allusions over Taylor’s expanding crash keep the blaze going, Parker serving as the rugged, boomy axle on which all this turns. They wind it down gingerly but methodically.

Taylor plays mbira on Seer, Parker propelling it with a slow bounce; the African instrument adds a surreal edge to an indelibly African series of minor blues riffs. The group’s concluding epic, Chemurgy has a hypnotically circling bounce, sending a final salute out to Coltrane, and the blues, and Carver, Knuffke’s sturdy cornet, and Lewis’ insistent and meticulous variations – and wise, knowing conclusion – a reminder how much struggle was involved to get to this point.

Lewis’ next gig is May 1 at around noon with his Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Taylor on drums in Central Park, on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side as part of Giant Step Arts’ ongoing weekend series there. The trio are followed at 1-ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums

April 25, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jimmy Katz’s Heroic Efforts Bring Live Jazz Back to Central Park This Month

After a year of pure hell, it is such a pleasure to be able to spread the word about concerts the general public can attend without fear of getting arrested. While at this moment it doesn’t appear that indoor shows in New York will be allowed to resume in any normal sense until Andrew Cuomo is either impeached or otherwise removed from power, good things are happening all over the place and one of those places is Central Park.

In order to help imperiled jazz musicians who’d been unable to make money on tour, photographer Jimmy Katz and his nonprofit Giant Step Arts launched a series of free weekend concerts in the park last fall in honor of fallen civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis.

Fast forward to 2021: free states from Florida to the Dakotas are experiencing an economic boom, without the mounds of dead bodies that the fearmongers at CNN and NPR shrieked would result, but New York has still not rejoined the free world. So Katz has resumed booking weekends at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, partnering with Jazz Generation’s Keyed Up program this time around. The twinbill this Saturday, April 10 is a real change of pace. At noon, alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan leads a trio with bassist Phil Norris and drummer Robert Lotreck. Then at 1:30 everybody gets really free with bassist William Parker, who leads a trio with Cooper-Moore – presumably on keys – and Hamid Drake on percussion. The former Seneca Village site is on the west side between about 82nd and 89th Streets; enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up!

There’s a new Parker bio out, which doesn’t actually say much about his music beyond the discography at the end – which stretches for more than a dozen pages. That’s because Parker is sought out as the go-to guy on the bass for free improvisation: he literally doesn’t play anything the same way twice. The most recent addition to that whopping discography is the Dopolarians‘ mighty, symphonic new album The Bond – streaming at Bandcamp – a sextet session featuring Kelley Hurt on vocals, Christopher Parker on piano, Chad Fowler on alto sax, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Brian Blade on drums.

There are three sprawling tracks on the album: the longest is about half an hour and the shortest is around ten minutes long. That’s a good indication of the esthetic if not the sound of this Saturday’s show. The group open with the title track, insistently lingering piano chords anchoring warmly floating lines from the horns as the bass moves tersely around a pedal note. The music rises with a gospel-tinged jubilation to an AACM-like wall of sound as Fowler squalls, Franklin exercising his stairstepping power in tandem with the piano. Then everybody backs away for Hurt to join with her enveloping, dynamically electric vocalese.

From there subgroups engage the rest of the crew. Chris Parker’s McCoy Tyner-esque, drivingly rhythmic interlude over Blade’s hammering toms; William Parker’s coy echoes of that over spare, moody piano; Hurt’s haunting quasi-operatics over similarly eerie, Messiaenic piano, with the bass calm at the center. The stroll that results is genuinely funny, getting funnier and looser as it goes along. regal trumpet and piano trying to pull everybody back on the rails with mixed results. Moments like this are what fans of free improvisation live for.

Track two, The Emergence, is the whopper. Crazed flurries quickly recede for Chris Parker’s moody, minimalist modal chords as individual voices filter in and out overhead, William Parker adding carbonation and spice this time while Hurt and the horns linger. There’s a momentary dip to pensive vocals, bass and piano; desolate noir from sax and bass with a shivery crescendo; and resolute, anthemic yet restless and enigmatic themes from Chris Parker. The blues slowly makes its way in from the shadows via a darkly acerbic piano theme and variations. William Parker conjures up a bristling, chromatic oldtime gospel tune with his bow; the band eventually find their dancing shoes.

They close with The Release, its shifting overlays of brooding piano, airy sax and calm, resonant trumpet giving way to a careeningly summery oldschool soul vamp. Fowler and Franklin pair off as bad cop and good cop, the music crystallizing around a triumphant trumpet solo. There’s obviously a lot more than this going on: dive in and get lost. You can do that this weekend in Central Park too.

April 7, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York’s Hottest New Music Venue: The Cube at Astor Place

As concertgoers are going to find out more and more this year, one of the very few good things to come out of the lockdown is that it provided a very fertile – if completely unwanted – opportunity for artists to create new material.This blog is long overdue to get back to spreading the word about upcoming concerts: one of the first to officially hit the calendar this month is an outdoor show at the cube at Astor Place this Weds, July 8 at 7 PM where Concerts From Cars  have been scheduling a series of improvisational lineups. This one includes but is probably not limited to drummer Dan Kurfirst, multi-reedman/trumpeter Daniel Carter and trumpeter Matt Lavelle. Once again, it bears mentioning that New York’s most forward-thinking improvisers are doing more than improvise with just their instruments. Obviously, we need to reopen all our music venues at full capacity, yesterday, but at least this is a start.

Of all the guys on this particular bill, Carter has appeared on more albums than everybody else combined. And he keeps popping up on new ones. The latest is Welcome Adventure, Volume 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

In keeping with these guys’ most expansive, improvisational esthetic, it’s just three tracks ranging from about four and a half to a full twenty minutes. The first is Majestic Travel Agency, which clocks in at thirteen. If you didn’t know all this was completely made up on the spot, you might easily assume it’s just a tight postbop quartet going out on a limb with some inspired interplay and solos. Cleaver’s beat is closer to trip-hop than straight up funk or swing as it unfolds from Parker’s catchy variations playing off a central tone. Shipp jabs at the edges; Carter’s balmy initial tenor sax solo alludes to the Middle East.

From there they swing it in more of a trad postbop mode, loosen and hit a more murky haze even as Cleaver refuses to quit. Shipp’s bad cop versus Carter’s good one is another amusing touch; after the piano cedes centerstage to the bass, they take it out surprisingly calmly.

Carter opens Scintillate with restrained muted trumpet: from a loose-limbed swing, they take it into brooding, vintage Miles Davis-ish jazz waltz territory. The closing epic,  Ear-regularities – probably not a reference to Matt Munisteri’s legendary Ear Inn residency – is where everybody gets to diverge. Parker and Cleaver prowl, Shipp’s incisions and Carter’s airy flute holding the center more or less. Restless, gleaming piano chromatics and saturnine muted trumpet draw the bass and drums into contrasting, funky swing. The unselfconsciously resonant, allusively haunting ambience afterward is completely unexpected and genuinely breathtaking.

Carter, Parker and Shipp go back to the jazz loft days of the 80s, and Cleaver fits right in, so it’s both a trip forward and backward in time.

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

A Small Subset of the Great Microscopic Septet Plays the Lower East Side Saturday Afternoon

There are few more definitively New York outfits than the Microscopic Septet – notwithstanding that a co-founder of this “surrealistic swing” crew is Australian. They predated the swing jazz revival here, but they’re not the least bit retro. They come out of the late 70s/early 80s punk jazz scene, but they’re not the least bit skronky. And pianist Joel Forrester foreshadowed this year’s avalanche of protest jazz by writing the theme for NPR’s Fresh Air as a brooding broadside against Bush I’s Gulf War. Beyond their substantial back catalog, they reputedly have a couple hundred more compositions they’ve played live over the decades but have never recorded. Their latest album, Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues is streaming at Cuneiform Records.

The Micros typically reunite for an annual Manhattan show or two. They haven’t done that this year, but their two lowest-register members, baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson and bassist Dave Hofstra are playing a real 80s throwback kind of gig, a duo improvisation on Sept 9 in the community garden at Stanton and Norfolk at around 3. Avant garde cult favorite multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore – a big influence on Mara Rosenbloom – duets with bassist William Parker to start the afternoon at 2; afterward at 4, trombone wizard Steve Swell joins with William Parker and TA Thompson.

The Micros’ album is a about as serious as they get – which isn’t totally dead serious, considering how much of their catalog is sort of the Spinal Tap of classic jazz (and in that sense, they predated Mostly Other People Do the Killing by a couple of decades). The album opens with Cat Toys, a slinky horror film theme theme with the occasional wry piano flourish, a smoky Don Davis alto solo and Hofstra’s more coy strut over drummer Richard Dworkin’s sotto-voce rimshots. Blues Cubistico is full of tongue-in-cheek stop-and-starts and gives Sewelson a vehicle for his genial wit. He does the same thing in the slowly swaying Dark Blue, with plenty of droll echo tradeoffs with the rest of the band and a similarly sardonic outro where the four-horn frontline finally coalesces.

Don’t Mind If I Do is a rare departure for the band into straight-ahead, blithe, New Orleans-tinged territory with a slithery solo from tenor saxophonist Mike Hashin (who’s also the not-so-secret weapon in Svetlana & the Delancey Five). Likewise, another of soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston’s tunes here, Migraine Blues has a comfortable wee-hours strut, but with contrasting, shivery solos from Davis and Sewelson.

PJ in the 60s, a catchy, triumphant swing shuffle, is Forrester’s shout-out to his bandmate Johnston, building out of a surprisingly messy sax cauldron and featuring a balmy Johnston trading off with the rest of the horns. When It’s Getting Dark is basically variations on the Peter Gunne theme, Forrester’s sardonic piano contrasting with Dworkin’s emphatic drumming and some cartoonish chartwork from the horns. Simple-Minded Blues, dedicated to Spectrum impresario Glenn Cornett, is anything but simple, a cheery exercise in dressing up the blues in all kinds of strange voicings, but with a purist Forrester solo as a sweet caramel center.

After You, Joel, dedicated by Forrester to painter Joel Goldstein, brings back the shuffle groove and Looney Tunes exchanges of voices. 12 Angry Birds, a low-key, marching Ellington homage by Johnston, reaches for Mood Indigo lustre, with a brooding soprano sax solo that’s arguably the album’s most riveting moment.

Quizzical, Johnston’s salute to his bandmate and Micros co-founder Forrester, threatens to get satirical early on but straightens out with a purposeful Monk influence and plenty of room for the pianist to channel that. The album winds up with a blues version of a xmas carol – which should have been left at the curb for the trash truck beside that moldy Simon & Garfunkel album  – and a hefty cover of Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers’ 1950 R&B hit I’ve Got a Right to Cry, sung with gritty passion by Sewelson. It’s unlikely that he and Hofstra will do much of anything this composed at the Saturday show in the garden…but you never know with any of these guys.

September 8, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment