August 2004

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Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery rushed in from an outerborough gig to lead his quintet in a CD release event at Smoke (July 8th), and had to contend with the hassle of a self-serve sound system. As a result, the first of three sets was not what it might have been, but players like trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Ralph Peterson can overcome just about any adverse circumstance. In fact, Escoffery and Henderson have the kind of lungs that render microphones unnecessary. (And with Peterson at the drums, that's saying something.)

Escoffery's new Nagel-Heyer release, Intuition , follows up 2001's Times Change and features Jeremy Pelt and Gerald Cannon, rather than Henderson and Glawischnig. The first Smoke set began with the title track, an advanced up-tempo blues, and continued with the modal, Rhodes-infused piece "Enduring Freedom". Escoffery then probed the darker corners of early '60s Blue Note with Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" and Joe Henderson's "Punjab", before closing with the album's final number, the fast and high-spirited "Is This?". A tough-minded yet elegant player, Escoffery held up quite well next to the masterly Henderson, whose solos brimmed with invention. Peterson's ceaseless rhythmic boil all but ensured excitement; there was one exploding snare drum figure that had Escoffery looking literally stunned.

One can rightly complain about the Knitting Factory turning its back on jazz, but credit is due the club for hosting the New York debut of Jaga Jazzist (July 6), a cathartic, psychedelic 10-piece combo from Norway that records for the UK-based Ninja Tune label. Fronted (more or less) by the smiling, athletic drummer Martin Horntveth, the young and motley tribe crammed onto the Knit's main stage and played a smart, delirious mix of jazz, prog-rock and drum-n-bass. Apart from programmed beats here and there, everything was absolutely live. The arrangements were dizzyingly intricate, the grooves tight but spacious, the harmonies beautiful and bizarre. There were three guitarists, one also playing reeds, another vibraphone. The backline consisted of flute, trumpet, trombone and tuba. The trumpeter, Mathias Eick, also played a sturdy upright bass. The electric bassist, Even Ormestad, often plunked out low-end figures on a mini-keyboard. The keyboardist, Andreas Schei, was a textural wizard (and looked like Ashton Kutcher to boot).

Taking notes at this show felt hopelessly square, but one had to scribble a word or two about a stunning passage involving arco bass, slide guitar and low brass, and another involving five horns, vibes and keyboards, and another involving nothing but the angelic wordless vocals of all 10 members.

~ David Adler


I draw a blank when asked, "Well, who or what does he sound like?" With an inimitable deep enunciation, vocal range and projection, paced approach and unique seductive interpretational gift (usually Blues and Soul-drenched), Andy Bey is as individual a vocalist as they come. Every tremolo-filled syllable and hypnotically emphasized breath sweetly echoed through Sweet Rhythm last month (July 20th) - part of the club's Tuesday vocal series presented by singer (and AAJ-NY columnist) Tessa Souter. Intimately performing in the barest of surroundings, Bey accompanied himself at the piano for the first two numbers, "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime", then spent a significant portion of his first set by nylon-string guitarist Paul Meyer's side, away from his notes and lyrics at the piano. Ironically, too, because "Midnight Sun" might have required at least a quick reference to sheet music with its beautiful imagery via Johnny Mercer's complex lyrics. But Bey comfortably closed his eyes and even added an effective Tuvan throat singing coda (as he did on "Lazy Afternoon")! Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" was a soaring scat improvisation incorporating quotes from "Mean to Me", "Surrey with a Fringe on Top" and "In the Evening", showing that the mid-60 year old is in top form with an instantly recognizable instrument all his own.


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