Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.

Advertisements

April 25, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Agile, Slinky Latin Jazz Cross-Pollination from Natalie Fernandez

Singer Natalie Fernandez has a genre-smashing new album out, Nuestro Tango, a collaboration with a shapeshifting band whose core is pianist Zaccai Curtis’ Insight. Curtis, a member of both Donald Harrison and Cindy Blackmon’s bands, knows a thing or two about cross-pollination. Likewise, his brother, bassist Luques Curtis, of Eddie Palmieri’s band, whose work obviously inspires this project. Fernandez, daughter of well-known tango singer Stella Milano, does a lot with a small voice, singing fluently in both Spanish and English, more animatedly in Spanish which probably makes sense since the Spanish-language numbers are livelier. Essentially, as Palmieri does so often, these tracks make Afro-Cuban jazz out of themes from further south of the border, in this case from Argentina and Uruguay. The rest of the inspired ensemble includes drummer Richie Barshay, Reinaldo de Jesus on percussion, Daniel Antonetti on timbales, Julie Acosta on trumpet, Tukunori Kajiwara on trombone, and Zach Lucas on tenor sax plus a multitude of special guests.

They open with Azabache, the first of the candombes, which gets a swinging, fat groove, a lithe Zaccai Curtis intro, a gem of a piano solo that’s far too short, a balmy horn chart…then they make a guaguanco out of it. Right there you have the band’s m.o. El Dia Que Me Quieras looks back to the famous Eddie Palmieri version but with more of a nuevo tango feel and coy, terse vocals from Fernandez. Like the first track, they swing it out with a cha-cha groove.

Adios Nonino probably isn’t the first song you might think of swinging, but Fernandez does it tenderly over an understatedly slinky beat lit up by Richard Scofano’s bandoneon. They follow it with Afrotangojazz, a vamping feature for percussion and bandoneon. Malena builds to an emotionally-charged, suspenseful crescendo – and then the percussion kicks in, and suddenly it’s a summery candombe-salsa romp. My True Love, a salsa-tinged jazz ballad co-written by the pianist and singer, gets an incisive, wood-toned bass solo and a hard-hitting break for drums and percussion.

Since this is a Curtis Brothers project (the two earned the top spot on the Best Albums of 2011 list here for their album Completion of Proof) it’s no surprise that there’s socially aware content, most vividly expressed in the elegant jazz waltz Free Me, with its moody bass solo and a thoughtful lyrical interlude delivered by hip-hop artist Giovanni Almonte Alberto Mastra’s El Viaje del Negro gets rapidfire bursts of lyrics, a brisk, poinpoint beat and a full-bore brass section. By contrast, Juan Carlos Cobian’s Nostalgias opens with eerily glimmering piano and a brooding trumpet line setting the stage for Fernandez’ wounded, angst-ridden vocals, intertwined with the bandoneon and a darkly gleaming horn chart. It’s the best and most epic song on the album. Fernandez winds it up with a torchy yet nuanced voice-and-piano version of Eladia Blazquez’s Un Semajente  It’s out now on Truth Revolution Records.

November 17, 2013 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catching Up with Ralph Peterson’s Duality Perspective

If there’s anything at all worthwhile that came out of the hurricane that hammered the east coast, it was in the almost complete shutdown of parts of New York. With no way of leaving the neighborhood, the issue of catching up with some albums that had been sitting around far too long basically forced itself. Veteran drum extrovert Ralph Peterson’s The Duality Perspective was one of those. His Larry Young-inspired Unity Project record from last year was a lot of fun; this one’s a lot more diverse. There are two bands here: the first an interesting, upper register-dominated quartet with vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday and clarinetist Felix Peikli out in front of Peterson and bassist Alexander Toth. The second, a sextet features the always formidable Curtis Brothers – Luques on bass and Zaccai on piano – plus Tia Fuller on alto sax, Walter Smith III on tenor and Sean Jones on trumpet. Both groups turn in terse and purposeful performances; the quartet handling most of the quieter material, the sextet getting the more upbeat fare. Peterson, who’s also a trumpeter, writes as vividly as ever here, and plays with a remarkable judiciousness for someone who’s always been best known for his robust boom.

The opening track, One False Move pairs off brightly spiraling clarinet against a circular bass/vibraphone hook and then a tight bass/drum interlude, Peterson at his most succinct. They follow that with a somewhat less phantasmagorical take of Thelonious Monk’s 4 in 1, Peikli’s nonchalant legato establishing a mood that the band never wavers from. Addison and Anthony, a ballad for a couple of younguns in Peterson’s life, has the terse, suspenseful feel of an early 70s Milt Jackson piece, while Bamboo Bends in a Storm joins the bass and vibes, tiptoeing yet carefree. They essentially segue out of that with Princess, a lively swing tune.

The sextet sequence opens with the ballad Coming Home, Fuller and the piano shifting from thoughtful and spacious to more carefree, Zaccai Curtis establishing a clenched-teeth focus that he uses to set the tone from this point forward: his intensity grounds these songs firmly even as solos fly away from the center. Their take on Monk’s Impervoius Gems gets bouncy Ethiopian-tinged metrics, a bright horn chart and progressively intense crescendos from the whole unit, while Fuller’s energetically purist melodicism fuels the staggered sway of the title track. On the considerably trickier You Have No Idea, Jones takes over that role with his romping, blues-infused spirals. The album ends with Pinnacle, which is everything we’ve come to know and love from Peterson: a flurrying horn chart, brisk swing, lively bantering from the whole band and a purposeful, volcano-on-the-loose solo from the bandleader. Good tunes, inspired playing, good listening on every possible level.

November 14, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Album Kills Fascists

These guys just plain get it. The Curtis Brothers barrel into their new album Completion of Proof with both eyes open, fearless and unintimidated. In the spirit of Mingus, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln during the Civil Rights era, and more recent jazz artists like Howard Wiley and Tain Watts, they take a skeptical and often savage look at the structure of society in the post-9/11 age. Forget that the tunes here have a blazing power: pianist/composer Zaccai Curtis’ liner notes are worth the price of the album all by themselves. Most of these songs – and they are songs, in the purest sense of the word – take their inspiration from the ongoing struggle against encroaching fascism, one way or another. But the Curtis Brothers aren’t simply critiquing – they’re offering solutions. As melodic jazz goes, this might be the best album of the year: it’s as important as it is catchy. While there’s a crowd who might pigeonhole this as latin jazz, and there’s definitely a delicious tropical slink to a lot of this, it defies such an easy categorization. It’s just good.

The opening track, Protestor, is dedicated to the guy who won the staredown with the army tank at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacres. It’s got hard-hitting, insistent piano, imperturbable Brian Lynch trumpet and sailing Donald Harrison alto sax with the powerhouse Ralph Peterson a spot-on choice of drummer for this song, and for that matter, this project. Bright hooks fade out over his tanklike rumble. The edgy, vivid, modally tinged second track is a dedication to Curtis’ niece, Madison, scrambling nimbly with an especially optimistic solo spot for bassist Luques Curtis. Named for the Bay of Bengal islanders whose centuries-old attentiveness to the world around them saved them from the 2008 tsunami, The Onge is a potently cinematic piece, kicking off with pulsing bass and a bustling two-horn attack – and eventually a triumphant if completely hectic run to the hills led by Zaccai Curtis.

The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, the Manifest Destiny Suite. It’s meant to illustrate the psychological and sociological mechanics of fascism: an awfully tall order for an instrumental work, but Zaccai Curtis succeeds with it, brilliantly. Part one, aptly titled The Wrath, underscores how kissing up to tyrants never works: this one’s dedicated to the school hall monitor, but it would work just as well for the Judenrat, or a contestant on the Donald Trump Show. Luques Curtis’ booming bass chords anchor this angry, chromatically-fueled depiction of a bully, Jimmy Greene’s tenor prowling suspiciously, drums and Pedrito Martinez’ percussion pummeling and rattling uneasily as the bandleaders hammer the point home sarcastically, over and over. Part two, Mass Manipulation examines how the corporate media distracts, Balkanizes and disempowers us. Zaccai Curtis works a wickedly sneaky variation on the tyrant theme over a noirish, rolling Afro-Cuban groove, all the way down to a depressing little waltz of sorts and then an absolutely gorgeously interwoven arrangement as the horns carry the tune, the piano ripples and the bass and piano work in tandem, bobbing to the surface. The concluding section is a reminder of the high price of the failure to follow Jefferson’s advice about eternal vigilance, richly illustrated with big, syncopated charts and more intricate but hard-hitting interplay.

The rest of the album balances the upbeat, optimistic son montuno anthem Sol Within against the explosively towering cautionary tale Jazz Conspiracy, a nightmarish portrayal of what happens when the corporations completely take over replete with creepy dissonances, sarcastic faux-martial cadenzas and bleating brass. As a whole, it leaps to the front of the pack of contenders for best jazz album of 2011.

And while it’s nice to see something this edgy and worthwhile getting coverage in a place like the NY Times, it would be an understatement to say that their reviewer didn’t get it. Did he even listen to the album? That seems doubtful.

November 6, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment