Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tim Mayer and His Band Get Resilient

Tenor saxophonist Tim Mayer’s album Resilience is a throwback to urban juke-joint jazz from the 60s, with somewhat cleaner digital production values. Mayer is an irrepressible presence with a slightly smoky tone, a quicksilver legato and a keen sense of dynamics, something you might not expect to come across on a hot blowing session like this one. The band behind him rises to the occasion, no surprise considering that George Cables, one of that era’s most vivid, no-nonsense players, plays piano on this session along with Dezron Douglas on bass, Willie Jones III on drums, along with Greg Gisbert on trumpet and Michael Dease on trombones.

Interestingly, they kick it off with a Dease swing blues, For Miles, a showcase for Dease’s bright tenor trombone and Cables’ purist, terse work along with a characteristically soaring Mayer excursion that sets the stage for most of what’s to come. Kenny Dorham’s Escape has plenty of edge and bite and lets the band air out their chops right from the opening brass harmonies – Mayer goes off uneasily, passes to Gisbert who takes it more relaxed, followed by Cables’ spacious, genial solo and then Dease again to bring it full circle. Charles Tolliver’s Emperor March gets a delightful Sara Jacovino arrangement with an additional high reeds section and a marvelous series of shifting voices, Jones artfully sneaking the clave back in when least suspected. Then they scale it back to a quartet for a bluesy take on Jule Styne’s I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.

Ironically, Fats Navarro’s Dance of the Infidels is a feature for sax and trombone rather than trumpet, and a surprisingly calm, mattter-of-fact one at that. They tackle Lee Morgan’s Blue Lace with a practically Afrobeat rhythm, Mayer’s clenched-teeth intensity swirling up to guest Claudio Roditti, who delivers sanity and commonsense and warm vibes on rotary trumpet. Cables’ suave presence is a highlight of their cover of Monk’s Work; they end the album with Cables’ own Klimo, a classic of its kind, its staggered salsa vamp a solid launching pad for Mayer’s confidently surging solo as well as trumpeter Dominic Farinacci’s soulful, unselfconsciously optimistic guest spot and some warm wirewalking by Douglas. And even the album’s weakest track, Fire & Ice by Steve Turre, has the band pulling out all the stops, unperturbed. This is the kind of jazz that used to flourish in neighborhood bars in big cities forty years ago, before clubowners realized that there was an audience who would go see jazz and would pay $10 for a drink even if they wouldn’t think of dancing to the music. Play this loud and not with a $10 drink unless it’s a whole bottle.

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December 5, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Chase Two in a Row

Saxophonist Ken Fowser and vibraphonist Behn Gillece’s previous album Little Echo was one of the best of 2010; how does their new one Duotone measure up? Where Little Echo was all gorgeous, often lurid Mad Men era ambience, this one’s got a more stripped-down, late night juke-joint flavor. The teamwork between the co-bandleaders is familiar yet fresh: it isn’t always this way, but often it’s Gillece introducing an element of menace or suspense, playing bad cop to Fowser’s warmly tuneful, blues-tinged lines. Likewise, the tunes – most of them supplied by Gillece – have a comfortably familiar swing and the kind of knowing ability to pick a spot and hit a high note that comes from hosting innumerable late-night jams, as these guys have both done.

The opening track, Overcooked, a briskly shuffling two-chord vamp with latin allusions, sets the mood. Gillece’s fast, sostenuto lines have a literally hypnotic effect, pianist Donald Vega bringing it up with a rippling intensity. Spontaneity begins dramatically: they rubato it and swell on a single chord, then the hook comes in and drummer Willie Jones III has them off swinging, Fowser soulful and sailing over Gillece’s insistence.

The chromatically-fueled Attachment features a neat handoff from Fowser to Gilllece, who does the same to Vega, whose climactic intensity is characteristic of everything he does here. Likewise, Back to Back swings slowly and then goes up the ladder again. Then they flip the script with Come Around Again, a somewhat skeletal, cozy ballad, just vibes/sax evoking the ambience of Little Echo.

In the Twilight takes the idea of the opening track to the next level, Vega punching in incisively and memorably, Fowser maintaining a sense of cool. The best track here, Low Ball, evokes a slightly more ornate, Johnny Mandel-esque California noir swing. Bongo, by Fowser, is a casually cheery bossa tune lit up by Gillece’s bright neon malletwork. The album wraps up with the thoughtfully swaying, crescendoing, catchily early 70s bluesy Offset and then One for G, another Fowser tune to end it on a genially swinging note. As melodic jazz goes, Fowser and Gillece are really onto something. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Noah Haidu’s Slipstream Floats Away

Jazz pianist Noah Haidu has an intriguing new album just out on Posi-tone. Haidu has an individual style – he wanders and hints at melody, with deft use of chromatics, rather than hitting it head-on. That role is left to the horns here, and he’s got a couple of really good ones, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Jon Irabagon on alto sax, along with Chris Haney on bass and John Davis on drums (with Willie Jones III behind the kit on three tracks). Haidu aims for an update on a classic 50s hook-based style, with judicious shifts in time and tempo, plenty of room for some choice solo spots and an inevitable return to the head or the hook at the end of the song.

Jones gives the cheery opener, Soulstep, a steady clave beat, Pelt and Irabagon both cutting loose with good-natured, lyrical solos, Haidu right behind them. The stern chords that open Where Are We Right Now are a false alarm: it morphs into a bright ensemble piece, Haidu adding a bit of a rattling, funky edge, Irabagon spinning through the clouds with an effortless grace: it’s hard to imagine that the purist pro at work here has an alter ego whose antics have made recent albums by Bryan Murray and Jon Lundbom so hilarious. The title track maintains the upbeat vibe, a brisk blend of old (30s, vaudevillian) and newer (60s, loungey). Break Tune builds off a staggered, Monk-ish piano hook, Irabagon playing good cop to Pelt’s repeat offender as the trumpet mauls the end of a series of swirling Irabagon phrases.

The judiciously brooding piano ballad Float, a trio piece with bass and drums, is a blues in disguise, followed by Take Your Time, wistful and simple with a purist pop feel. Another trio piece, Just One of Those Things gives Haidu a launching pad for some particularly tasty, bluesy horn voicings as he works his way up the scale. They close with a genial, 50s style swing theme, The Trouble Makers, which exemplifies everything that’s good and also frustrating about the album, including but not limited to the indomitable rhythm section and Pelt’s genial soloing. Trouble is that by now, the tropes that Haidu has fallen back throughout the album have past their expiration date as far as maintaining suspense, or for that matter maintaining interest. Does that staccato chromatic run up the scale mean the end of the solo? Of course it does, weren’t you listening when that happened ten minutes ago? Or the time before that? This is the kind of album that works best as an ipod shuffle: most every track here is a good choice for spicing up a mix or adding a hit of energy between slow ballads. And it’s reason to keep an a eye on Haidu to see what he puts out next.

April 14, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment