Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

There’s Nothing Jorge Glem Can’t Play on the Cuatro

Last night before the show at Joe’s Pub, the trippy sounds of cumbia icons Chicha Libre’s Canibalismo album wafted through the PA, a very good omen. Like Chicha Libre’s Olivier Conan, Venezuelan wizard Jorge Glem plays the cuatro, the shortscale Pan-American four-stringed instrument. The C4 Trio co-founder explained that he wants to bring that spiky little axe into every style of music around the world…and if there’s anybody who has the chops to do that, it’s Glem. You can watch the whole show at youtube.

He drew plenty of laughs for his account of how he came to play it. As a small child, he wanted to be a percussionist, but his mom wouldn’t let him use the family pots and pans. But there was a cuatro hanging on the wall of his home in Cumaná, a common sight in a neighborhood where it was more kitschy decor than anything else. With a big grin, he vigorously delivered the very first sounds he was able to get out of it: mimicking the beats of a conga by banging on the instrument’s body while muting the strings, first at the sound hole and then right at the headstock for highs and lows. Throughout the show, he also made it sound like a banjo, a mandolin, a flamenco guitar, a pandeiro, many different drums, a mosquito and a jet engine among other things.

Guest clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera also related a funny anecdote about Blues for Sonny, a Sonny Rollins tribute by Toots Thielemans that D’Rivera had recorded with the late jazz harmonica player. Michel Camilo heard it and said to D’Rivera, “That’s a Venezuelan tune! What does Sonny Rollins have to do with Venezuela?” So it would make sense for D’Rivera to play that warmly bouncing number with Glem. The two followed with A Night in Tunisia, which D’Rivera had first thrown at Glem at an impromptu performance at the National Arts Club…and was amazed to find that Glem knew it. That was a showcase for Glem’s postbop phrasing, but then again, so was Glem’s opening solo improvisation.

Joined by accordionist Sam Reider, Glem mashed up what sounded like an Irish reel, a high lonesome Applachian dance, vallenato and champeta, maybe, throwing in a boisterous improvisation midway through. Likewise, guitarist Yotam Silberstein playfully jousted with Glem throughout a shapeshifting blend of Caribbean coastal folk, postbop and some of the most fluidly legato Django Reinhardt ever played.

The final guest was singer Claudia Acuña, who held the crowd in the palm of her hand with her bittersweetly nuanced low register throughout a couple of ballads in both English and Spanish. Glem encored with a final, chord-chopping solo piece that quoted liberally from Bach and Beethoven, and maybe Yomo Toro and Dick Dale too. How Glem managed to get through that one without breaking either strings or his fingers is a mystery that has yet to be solved. No wonder there’s a documentary film being made about his crazy cuatro cross-pollinations here in New York. 

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September 6, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Distinctive, Entertaining, Eclectic Organ Jazz Album from Brian Charette

Brian Charette – an insightful contributor to the New York City Jazz Record – is the rare music writer who also writes a good tune. And he literally wrote the book on the B3 organ. He goes under the hood: drawbar settings, mechanical tips, it’s all there. And he’s generous with his ideas: if you want to sound like Charette, he’s got all his harmonic tricks in there. He records prolifically for the reliably swinging Posi-tone label, and he’s playing the album release show for his latest one, Good Tipper – streaming at Spotify – with his reed-fueled “sextette”  tonight, April 29 at Smoke Jazz Club at the southern tip of what used to be Harlem and is now more or less the Upper West tonight with three sets at 7, 9 and 10:30 PM. As an alternative to the pricy prix-fixe menu, you can hang at the bar in the back where the sound is just as good.

Charette’s playing is distinguished by fearlessness and an imperturbable wit. He has no issues with code-switching between dub, funk, Jimmy Smith and maybe even a little Messiaen if he’s in the mood. Charette’s back catalog is mostly originals; this new release is a grab bag of new material and an eclectic bunch of covers, most of them as unpredictable as you would expect from this guy. The album’s title track is a briskly swinging, amiable number centered around a genial Avi Rothbard guitar hook, Charette working a steady, full-on, allusively fluid solo midway through. The funky cover of the Zombies’ Time of the Season is an improvement on Rod Argent’s teenage original but other than offering tongue-in-cheek hubris, doesn’t really add anything. Richard Rodgers’ Spring Is Here gets a balmy, tremolo-toned bossa tinged reinterpretation, Rothbard matching Charette’s optimism as he chooses his spots.

Al Martino’s Cuando Cuando Cuando is reinvented as a roller-rink latin soul shuffle, guitarist Yotam Silberstein adding lively, wry spiraling followed by a similarly deadpan, chugging Charette solo. Another Quarter, by Rothbard is a funky soul strut with an astigmatic, somewhat acidic Charette solo that really wakes you up while the band keeps it on the purist 60s tip.

Standing Still, a Charette original, is catchily polyrhythmic as it hints at a waltz and dips in and out of doubletime. John Barry’s theme to the film You Only Live Twice gets a very straight-up take, Charette letting Silberstein carry the hooks and saving a muted menace for his own lines, drummer Mark Ferber driving it hard.

Charette tackles a couple of Jimmy Webb tunes, Wichita Lineman and Up Up and Away, the former backing away from the baroque arrangement of the Glenn Campbell hit, adding a swinging funk groove and in the process maxing out the song’s bittersweet angst, Rothbard and drummer Jordan Young building to an insistent peak. The latter is a revelation, Charette bringing an unexpected, chordally-fueled gravitas to lite 60s stoner soul, Silberstein’s guitar supplying the helium.

One and Nine, also by Rothbard, is the album’s most expansive number, a loping groove which Charette colors judiciouslly, tenor saxophonist Joe Sucato doing the same and anchoring the tune with a tinge of smokiness. Charette sets up a classic biting/pillowy dichotomy, organ versus guitar throughout his ballad To Live in Your Life (with some irresisibly clever hints of a famous 60s janglerock hit). They take the album out on the upbeat tip with a swinging, syncopated version of Joe Henderson’s The Kicker. It’s a good introduction to the many things Charette has fun with, and a continuation of a career that confounds some of the more uptight members in the jazz community but keeps everybody else entertained…and sometimes in stitches.

April 29, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Keep Up with Organ Individualist Brian Charette

Brian Charette is one of the world’s most interesting and distinctive voices on the organ. Classically trained, he’s made his name in jazz although his music is just as informed by classic 60s soul, funk and even reggae. He tours constantly and writes prolifically, and he’s playing the album release for his latest one, Good Tipper; tonight and also tomorrow night, Oct 9 at Smalls at 10 PM; cover is $20 and includes a drink. Joining him for the album show are Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber – who really has a feel for this funky groove stuff – on drums.

The album BEFORE the latest one (yeah – the guy works fast) is a Posi-Tone release, streaming at Spotify, titled Square One. Charette has a devious sense of humor and that’s apparent right from the jaunty strut of the opening track, Aaight!, which eventually squares itself more or less into a swinging shuffle. Charette and Silberstein move more frantically yet purposefully over Ferber’s blistering yet nimble pulse on their take of Joe Henderson’s If, followed by the vintage soul-infused Three for Martina, a metrically tricky ballad with organ and then guitar holding to a warmly reflective mood.

People on Trains follows a wryly lyrical narrative: the subway takes its time pulling out of the station and then scurries along, fueled by the guitar, then the process repeats itself. It isn’t long before Charette throws in a New York-centric subway joke or two (the album cover pictures him chilling down under the Manhattan Bridge). Likewise, True Love kicks off slowly before Charette pulls it out of its balmy reverie, then Silberstein takes it back with a minimalist, practically Satie-esque solo. Then they get a swaying groove going with a warmly purposeful take of the Meters’ classic Ease Back, Silberstein adding droll wah-wah licks.

Time Changes alludes to a famous Dave Brubeck album: it’s a jazz waltz with summery soul riffage. A Fantasy does much the same with trickier rhythms and spiraling solos from guitar and drums against Charette’s anthemic washes. Yei Fei is a blend of indie classical circularity and hints of airily eerie Jehan Alain church organ music: you might not think that something like this would work, but it does. Things You Don’t Mean mixes up a strutting New Orleans funk groove with a hardbop guitar attack and then an absolutely creepy quote and variations from the Alain songbook: it’s killing, Charette at his outside-the-box best. The album sprints to the finish line with Ten Bars for Eddie Harris, the most trad organ-lounge track here – but even that goes off the rails into a deliciously warped interlude. Who is the audience for this? People who like Dr. Lonnie Smith, jambands, funk and soul and sophisticated original jazz tunesmithing, which is ultimately what this is.

October 8, 2014 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Music, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Alexander’s New Live Album: Yeah Mon!

In case you haven’t heard, Monty Alexander has a new live album out. More elegant and urbane but no less fun than his ecstatic, paradigm-shaping reggae-jazz albums like 1995’s Yard Movement and 2004’s Rocksteady, this new one, Harlem-Kingston Express Live, is a vivid reminder why artists as diverse as Tony Bennett and Ernest Ranglin have sought him out as a collaborator. Shifting effortlessly between bustling swing and a deep roots reggae groove, the iconic Jamaican jazz pianist is backed by two different bands – a roots reggae unit, as well as a jazz trio with rhythm section and guitar. Recorded both at Dizzy’s Club at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as on tour over the previous few years, the production is remarkably fat for a live performance, particularly perfect for the reggae numbers. For the straight-up jazz tunes, the group here includes Hassan Shakur on bass, Obed Calvaire on drums and Yotam Silberstein on guitar, while the electric reggae unit typically features Andy Bassford on guitar, Hoova Simpson on bass guitar, Karl Wright on drums and Robert Thomas on percussion. Sometimes, though, Alexander flips the script, allowing each group to explore their counterparts’ territory, with surprising and rewarding results.

Strawberry Hill, one of Alexander’s most popular hybrid compositions, is done tersely and not a little suspensefully, big block chords laying the foundation for some tiptoeing lyrical excursions. By contrast, the version of High Heel Sneakers fades up jauntily, Alexander literally leading a charge, leaving the boogie bass to the rhythm section as he gets the piano humming with overtones before diving back into the blues. King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown leaps from the classic drum-n-bass vamp to a sprint, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing after all…and then they’re right back where they started.

Eleuthera, another Alexander signature song, gets a laid-back but lively reggae bounce. They pick up the pace with a lickety-split, surprisingly lighthearted romp through Sweet Georgia Brown, Silberstein taking over where Alexander leaves off, while Freddie Freeloader gets a tongue-in-cheek disco groove. But the gravitas of the solo piano intro to Milt Jackson’s Compassion doesn’t dissipate even as the slinky reggae riddim comes in (that’s Bernard Montgomery on melodica, in case you’re wondering how Alexander can play two keyboards at once).

There are three Bob Marley tunes here, and they’re the real showstoppers. The Heathen reminds why Alexander is equally admired in the jazz and jamband worlds, as it constantly changes shape from brightly lyrical reggae, to a bustling bop interlude…with a little melodica, and stark bowed bas when least expected. Running Away winds in casually but matter-of-factly, Alexander keeping it pointed and biting just like the original. They swing out of it with a silvery Silberstein solo, Alexander firing off a big chromatically-charged climb to take it out on a high note. No Woman No Cry is quite a bit faster than the original, quickly becoming a launching pad for some typically wry Alexander allusions that the band picks up on – his wit’s in rare form, and the fun is contagious. Another album, another victory for Commander Zander. It’s out now on Motéma.

August 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic Tunefulness from Nick Hempton

File this one under melodic jazz composition – really, really good, interesting tunes and tasteful playing, classic late 50s/early 60s style. On saxophonist Nick Hempton’s new album The Business, the blues is always lurking somewhere, if not always centerstage, one reason why the hooks are so strong. Hempton goes for a clean, uncluttered tone and favors melody over ostentatious blowing. The first-class band on this session includes Art Hirahara on piano, Yotam Silberstein (who also appears on Jordan Young’s excellent new quartet album) on guitar, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Hempton has a thing for minor keys – his tunes often have a sardonic wit and a refreshing unpredictability, and the band rises to the occasion.

The first track is titled Flapjacks in Belo, samba-tinged with a long Hempton solo, Hirahara in late-night expansive mood, with a trick ending (something that will recur here, very enjoyably). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek Art Is in the Groove is a brisk retro swing tune seen through the prism of the early 70s, Hirahara delivering a period-perfect Joe Sample-ish solo on Rhodes, letting those reverb tones ring out for all they’re worth. One of only two covers here, Don Redman’s Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You gets going reaaaal slow, Hempton stays low and cool but then crescendos almost imperceptibly. The other, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s From Bechet, Byas and Fats is a real blast: it’s got a bass solo that’s almost a banjo tune, a lickety-split, sly Hirahara solo at doublespeed and a deliciously dark, bluesily climactic outro. It’s obviously a live showstopper for these guys.

Another real stunner here is the offhandedly moody Press One for Bupkis, Hirahara’s crescendo hitting the spot very satisfyingly, Hempton taking his time winding it out with suspenseful ambiguity. Likewise, the brooding jazz waltz The Wading Game has Panascia carrying its weight with an unexpected grace, Hirahara going out into the dark and coming back joyously, Hempton ratcheting up the intensity with a vividly bittersweet solo. The pensive ballad Encounter in E artfully works variations on a subtly modal bass theme up to a slinky bounce, Panascia’s matter-of-factly wary solo one of the album’s high points. With its casual sway, Cold Spring Fever is a showcase for both Silberstein’s rhythm playing (he goes into staggered ska for a bit underneath Hempton’s hazily acidic melody) as well as a nimble solo. The catchy, playful Not Here for a Haircut alternates between scurrying shuffle and straight-up swing – Hirahara once again can’t wait to get in on the fun and flip the script on the listener. The album ends on a jaunty note with the pretty self-explanatory Carry on up the Blues. Yet another winner from the Posi-Tone label, who are really on a roll this year.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Jordan Young Group Put an Original Spin on Organ Jazz

The Hammond B3 revival continues with jazz drummer Jordan Young leading his group through a welcome, unorthodox new album. How unorthodox? Joe Sucato’s tenor sax takes the lead most of the time, fortified by Yotam Silberstein’s guitar while organ innovator Brian Charette holds down rhythm for the most part. Young is a no-nonsense, purist player who, other than a briefly clever excursion during one of the free interludes between the songs here, doesn’t even solo between track one and track eight – and when he does, leaves you wanting more. This is a thoughtful, sometimes mysterious album: a close listen reveals a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and similarly smart, understated playing. These guys aren’t going to blow you away with solos and volume here: this album has plenty of other ways to hold your attention.

They open with Pat Metheny’s H and H – dedicated to the recently closed bagel shop in Metheny’s upper west side neighborhood, maybe? Then they reinvent Every Time We Say Goodbye as a syncopated shuffle, but with the sax’s warmly fluid bluesiness as a lead, Charette building a soul song within his solo (a vibe that will recur here). The most straight-up organ shuffle here, Duke Pearson’s Jean de Fleur, has Sucato nonchalantly sinking his teeth into the deft, understated groove, Charette going for a horn line instead of Jimmy Smith-style funk, Silberstein swooping in to take the energy up a notch. The lone Young original here, Claudes Monet is a warmly optimistic jazz waltz.

Joe Henderson’s Afro-Centric gets reinvented as hazy summer evening groove rather than blazing funk; likewise, Wayne Shorter’s Angola is done as a briskly low-key closing-time theme, Young taking an especially enjoyable, devious turn deciding whether or not to let the band back in. The real gem out of all of these is Sucato’s JF Blues, a wry, catchy, stop-time swing tune – that Charette would quote Booker T. Jones before a neat trick ending pretty much says it all. And Young pretty much disapperas on My One and Only Love, leaving the ballad to the guitar and sax over Charette’s lush yet tersely atmospheric washes and David Lynch outside-the-funeral-parlor solo. The independently released album is available at the usual spots including cdbaby.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment