Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

International Jazz Artists Play a Benefit at Drom For Wrongfully Convicted Poet Keith LaMar

In a creepily prophetic glimpse of what the world would be subjected to in 2020 and onward, the 1993 Lucasville, Ohio prison uprising was triggered when the warden ordered prisoners to be injected with phenol, ostensibly to test them for tuberculosis. Many refused to comply. Violence broke out, a standoff with police ensued and hostages were taken. By the time the prisoners and state negotiated an end to hostilities, several people were dead.

Keith LaMar was one of the inmates. At nineteen, he’d been ambushed and robbed by drug dealers in his native Cleveland. Wounded by gunfire from his assailants, he fired back and killed one of them. After his arrest, he took a guilty murder plea rather than risking a death sentence at trial and was incarcerated at Lucasville. While the uprising was taking place, he was outside the area where the killings occurred, yet was fingered as the ringleader by inmates who received parole and reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.

The judge allowed prosecutor Mark Piepmeier to withhold key exculpatory evidence in LaMar’s 1995 trial, in violation of his Federal rights under the Brady ruling. This was nothing new: the prosecutor has been cited for misconduct many times, and at least one innocent man he sent to death row has subsequently been exonerated and released. As a result, LaMar, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Since his conviction, he has been held in solitary confinement on death row and is scheduled to be executed next year despite the state’s admission that there is no forensic evidence against him, and that their main witness perjured himself on the stand.

In the meantime, LaMar has written a memoir, been the subject of a short film, and has now become the first man on death row to release an album, Freedom First, streaming at youtube. It’s a long-distance collaboration with an inspired cast of allstar jazz talent who have come to his defense. Pianist Albert Marquès assembled different groups for the project in both New York and his native Spain, and he’s leading a band featuring most of the supporting cast at the album release show tonight, March 20 at 6:30 PM at Drom. Cover is $25; there are no restrictions, and it’s likely that the musicians will be donating their share of the proceeds to their long-distance bandmate’s defense.

Under the circumstances, LaMar was forced to record his tracks in fifteen-minute segments from a prison phone. Throughout the record, his spirit is indomitable: it’s amazing how he manages to stay positive, given his situation. Marquès’ resonant, modally drifting compositions are on the somber side, although there’s plenty of conversationality between text and music.

The first number is Calling All Souls, LaMar’s stark contemplation of mortality and existential dread over Marquès’ spare, lingering piano, rising to a distant, oldtime gospel-tinged crescendo. We discover how LaMar credits jazz with literally saving his sanity.

The band deliver two solemn takes of John Coltrane’s Alabama, the first an emphatic quartet recording of Marquès with saxophonist Salim Washington, bassist Scott Colberg and drummer Zack O’Farrill. The second is a stark duet with cellist Gerald Appleman, echoed later on in Resolution, an original.

Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill joins his drummer brother, vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, tenor saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo and bassist Walter Stinson in Tell Em the Truth, a lively, soaring tune with LaMar sending a shout-out to the resilience of his parents’ generation in his old Cleveland neighborhood, and the conflicting effects of how those adults tried to shield their kids from racism.

The band work a murky, mournful ambience in Unintentional Vignettes, where LaMar reveals that he was offered a reduced sentence if he’d been willing to take a murder plea for the events of the uprising.

They go back to the Coltrane pantheon – LaMar’s great inspiration – for an expansive quartet take of Acknowledgment, Caroline Davis contributing a spare but animated alto solo, Collberg offering a spot-on quote to set the stage.

LaMar reads On Living, Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet’s allusive contemplation of a prisoner’s resilience, joined by the album’s Spanish contingent. Marquès’ pensive modal tune rises with flugelhorn from Milena Casado and vocalese from Erin Corine over Marc Ayza’s soberly emphatic drums.

The full American ensemble provide a restless, fluttering setting for Be Free, LaMar recounting the capital trial events: “After 22,000 pieces of evidence were collected, none of them could be connected,” he reminds. Roy Nathanson contributes Some Sad Shit We Humans Do to Each Other, a soulful, melancholy solo alto sax interlude, then joins Nick Hakim and Marquès for the surreal trip-hop of No Man’s Land: “Being in here is like a lucid dream, except it’s a nightmare,” LaMar relates. “What I really want to say is ‘Go to hell,’ but that would be redundant, wouldn’t it?”

After a brief, pensive solo Samora Pinderhughes piano interlude, the Spanish crew turn in a shamanic, reverential take of Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue. Brian Jackson takes over the piano for the catchy, Steely Dan-tinged midtempo swing of The Only Freedom, Then it’s Arturo O’Farrill’s turn on the album’s concluding number, The Drowned & the Saved, rising from muddled angst to regal gospel variations as LaMar offers a profound, wise, existentially spiritual parable. If you can’t make it to the show, you can literally help save LaMar’s life here.

March 20, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ambitious, Counterintuitive Tunefulness from Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days

Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill didn’t exactly burst onto the Manhattan scene – he eased into it, mentored by his father, the brilliant pianist/composer/activist Arturo O’Farrill. The trumpeter’s big splash was when Vijay Iyer enlisted him while barely out of his teens. His technique is astonishing, from the top to the bottom of his register, and with amazing subtlety for someone with such fearsome chops. He’s also a very soulful and playful composer, which takes some people by surprise, which it shouldn’t. Depth isn’t a quality that necessarily comes with age. Think about it: were you stupid when you were in your early twenties? If you’re reading this, probably not.

Adam O’Farrill’s second album with his chordless quartet, Stranger Days – with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass and similarly brilliant older brother Zack on drums – is titled El Maquech. It’s a step forward for an already talented bandleader, who’s bringing his crew to the album release show at 55 Bar tomorrow night, June 13 at 10 PM. Much as the club is a rare remaining fortress of (very) oldschool West Village cool, this is the kind of show that really ought to happen at, say, Lincoln Center. If the late, great Lorraine Gordon was still with us, she unquestionably would have given this guy a week at the Vanguard.

The album’s opening number, Siiva Moiiva – which you can hear on Bandcamp along with the rest of the tracks – is a reinvented Mexican folk tune, both a showcase for shivery, allusively Arabic extended technique and some jubilant New Orleans rhythms, veering back and forth between the two. Stinson’s wryly syncopated groove underscores horn harmonies that shift from carefree to defiantly haggard in Verboten Chant, inspired by the dilemma faced by Japanese monks who were prohibited from chanting.

The title cut – named after a Mexican beetle depicted in ancient Mayan jewelry – is a darkly blazing, gorgeous New Orleans/bolero mashup, trumpet soaring, sax smoking, drums adding innumerable colorful textures and cadenzas. Erroneous Love – based on Thelonious Monk’s Eronel – blends Rudresh Mahanthappa-inspired bhangra riffage balanced by Lefkowitz-Brown’s tongue-in-cheek, Jon Iragabon-ish microtones.

LIkewise, Shall We (If You Really Must Insist) is a phostbop bhangra fanfare, done as a a brightly stripped-down trumpet-and-drums duo. Irving Berlin’s Get Thee Behind Me Satan – originally a lushly orchestrated Ella Fitzgerald vehicle from the trumpeter’s favorite film, The Master – gets reinvented as an expansively bittersweet, semi-rubato solo piece.

Henry Ford Hospital – inspired by the Frida Kahlo painting – shifts between strolling and frantic meters, matched by the horns’ pounces and shrieks. Pointilllistic cymbals contrast with foghorn harmonies as the album’s final cut, Gabriel Garzon-Montano’s Pour Maman, gets underway, edging between astigmatic Krzysztof Komeda-esque noir and mariachi majesty. Many flavors to savor here.

June 12, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The O’Farrill Brothers Band: Smart Kids Having Fun Onstage

At 22, drummer Zack O’Farrill appears to be the senior member of the O’Farrill Brothers band. Friday night at the Jazz Gallery’s new Garment District space on Broadway and 27th Street, it took him about ten seconds to get a sense of the room – and then he had a game plan. Other more experienced, equally extrovered drummers might still cluelessly bash and bounce high frequencies off the walls, but not this guy. Emphasizing the boomy resonance of his toms with a contrasting, sustained shimmer from the cymbals, he found an angle that worked perfectly with the gallery’s acoustics. Subtle as his attack was, it was the furthest thing from minimalist, as he shifted meters, threw occcasional, wry elbows at his brother, 18-year-old trumpeter Adam O’Farrill or guitarist Gabe Shnider, and leapfrogged amiably when the songs hit several insistent, pedaled interludes. It was a performance as workmanlike as it was inspired and nuanced.

No one in this sextet – which also included pianist  Adam Kromelow, bassist Raviv Markovitz and tenor saxophonist Livio Almeida – ever overplayed. Their contributions all worked in the service of the songs. Yet their team esthetic never overshadowed the sheer fun they were having onstage – if anything, it enhanced the feeling. This group employs a lot of devices to have fun with: false endings; expansive duels or pairings of instruments; circular motives; increasingly agitated or animated passages of pass-the-baton, and first-rate tunesmithing that draws on decades of jazz from Ellington to Eddie Palmieri and points much closer to the present day. Space is also an important element in their music: throughout the show, there was always plenty of breathing room and often an ongoing sense of suspense as a result. The O’Farrill legacy- which began with grandfather Chico O’Farrill and continues with their father Arturo – includes a gift for rhythm, so it was no surprise to see Zack leading the charge from one meter to another, sometimes halfway hidden, sometimes strikingly sudden.

Does Markovitz have Cuban roots? From his terse, melodic, often chordally-charged pulse, it would seem so. He was especially solid when the drums went ambling around the perimeter. Schnider played a lot of horn voicings, but he also has a feel for Memphis soul and what appears to be a deep bag of Muscle Shoals licks. Almeida’s role this time out was to be the group’s modal hitman, trading or pairing off against Kromelow’s nocturnal glimmer or Shnider’s biting single-note lines with an aching, haunting, simmering sustain that finally cut loose with a jaunty skronk on the night’s shapeshifting, closing partita, Monster House. From the tricky tempo shifts of the opening number, Drive, through the moody neoromanticism of Monet and then a creepy Brazilian trio piece with nimble sixteen-year-old guest bassist Daryl Johns, Adam chose his spots, feeling for where the rest of the aircraft was before judiciously lifting off and then never looking back. That’s a reference to the group’s debut album Sensing Flight, whose release they were celebrating – if its energy is anything like this show, it transcends any notion of what a prodigy is or how young musicians should play. Answer: just like old ones. Music transcends time, and this group knows that better than most players their age…or any other age. .

March 24, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz for Obama 2012: Unforgettable

Jazz for Obama 2012 last night at Symphony Space was like one of those Kennedy Center New Year’s Eve concerts, a hall of fame lineup, except that this one vociferously represented the 99%. Only a special occasion like this could bring together such an all-star cast from five generation of jazz: Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Jim Hall, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts, to name less than half of the cast. Inspired by the prospect of playing for free for the sake of benefiting the re-election campaign of a President who, as one of the organizers put it, “comes across as the only adult in the room,” they delivered what might be the most transcendent concert of the year. There’s an interview with organizer/pianist Aaron Goldberg up at artinfo that provides a lot of useful background.

Yet as ecstatic as the music was, there was a persistent unease. Timeless tenor sax sage Jimmy Heath kicked off the show alongside Barrron, Carter and the purist Greg Hutchinson on drums, with a soulful take of There Will Never Be Another You followed by Autumn in New York. Evocative and wistful as that one was, Heath ended it with a moody series of tritones, perfectly capsulizing the pre-election tension that hostess Dee Dee Bridgewater brought up again and again, imagining the spectre of Mitt Romney in the Oval Office. Guitarist Hall, who was particularly energized to be part of the festivities, joined Carter in a warmly conversational duo of All the Things You Are and then a biting blues. After a bright Barron/Carter ballad, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joined Allen, McBride and drummer Ralph Peterson for a wrenchingly epic take of one of Barack Obama’s favorite songs, John Coltrane’s Wise One. Its searing ache and ominous modalities were inescapable even as the quartet finally took it swinging with a redemptive thunderstorm from Peterson and his cymbals. As  Bridgewater put it, “That was a moment!”

Tyner and tenorist Joe Lovano followed, maintaining the full-throttle intensity with Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit, the pianist’s menacing low lefthand sostenuto vortices contrasting with the sax’s sharp, bluesy directness. After that, their take of Search for Peace held steady, majestic and unselfconsciously righteous. The first set closed with a playful bass/vocal duet on It’s Your Thing by Bridgewater and McBride.

The second part of the show opened with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato teaming up for a couple of Brazilian-tinged pop songs. Mehldau was joined by McBride for a rapturous, casually contemplative take on Monk’s Think of One – and where was Tain? Oh yeah, there he was, jumping in and adding his signature irrepressible wit.

Claudia Acuna then led a family band of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, his sons Zack on drums and Adam on trumpet, Craig Haynes on congas and Alex Hernandez on bass through a blazing, insistent, Puerto Rican-spiced Moondance that simply would not be denied. After that, bass legend Henry Grimes wasted no time in thoroughly Grimesing Freedom Jazz Dance. Completely still but masterful with his fleet fingers, he took Allen and Watts on an expansive, surreal, brisk outer-space AACM-age stroll on the wings of microtones, slides, and a handful of wicked rasps. And Allen and Watts were game! She waited for her moment and then joined in with an off-center, minimalist lunar glimmer while Watts added distant Plutonian whispers. The concert ended on a high-spirited note with Goldberg taking over the keys for a boisterousl warped version of Epistrophy, along with McBride, Lovano and ageless drum legend Roy Haynes bedeviling his mates throughout an endless series of false starts, and endings, and good-natured japes: the tune hardly got past the waltzing introductory hook, McBride patiently looping it as Haynes shamelessly energized the crowd. It would have been impossible to end the show on a better note, equal parts exhilaration and dread.

Some of you may have reservations about another Obama administration, but consider the alternative: a corporate raider who’s made millions putting his fellow citizens out of work, who cavalierly looks forward to nuclear war with Iran and has such contempt for the American public that he doesn’t even bother to cover his lies. We are in a depression, no doubt: we will be in an even worse one if Romney might win, perish the thought. For those of you who aren’t out of work and can afford an investment in the future, there’s still time to help our President’s reelection campaign at WWW.JAZZFOROBAMA2012.COM.

October 10, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment