August 2007

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Marty Ehrlich at Sweet Rhythm

In a seemingly too infrequent NYC performance, saxophonist/clarinetist Marty Ehrlich brought a veteran quartet to Sweet Rhythm for a six-set, two-night run. The inaugural set of the residency (Jul. 13th) opened with the swelling crescendos of "Line on Love . The leader's alto and Ray Anderson's trombone wove keen striving lines, urged on by the insistent bass of Chris Lightcap and the thunderous drumming of Pheeroan akLaff. Longtime musical partners, Ehrlich and Anderson displayed a comfortable affinity, playing off each other and around the off-kilter, stuttering feel of "Like I Said with amusing blats and squawks. Ehrlich took a bluesy, lyrical solo with a series of glissando runs before turning it over to Anderson, who, with the aid of a mute, growled out a vocal turn. Lightcap anchored, holding down the bottom and allowing the horns and drums to stretch further out. He provided a spare, thematic introduction to "The Secret of Light , an almost plodding ballad that featured wonderfully narrative solos from Anderson and Ehrlich on clarinet. akLaff added drama, using mallets to build a rumbling accompaniment and then pulling back at precise moments. Switching back to alto, Ehrlich played buoyantly over the jumpy feel of "Welcome , an older piece that concluded the set. The music crackled with adventurous energy, but remained tunefully accessible: an enduring, distinguishing trait of Ehrlich.

Greg Skaff at 55Bar

As the heat swelled outside, the ample early evening crowd chilled at 55Bar for a welcome respite with the laidback vibe of guitarist Greg Skaff's trio (Jul. 9th). Working on new material, Skaff's straight-ahead tunes had familiar forms, relaxed pacing and an amiable execution. Joining him were bassist Ben Allison and drummer EJ Strickland, who had met only minutes before playing the gig. Undaunted, they propelled the leader with judiciously syncopated and straighter grooves through a mixed program, including a swinging reading of Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie . Skaff favored a clean, articulate tone, adding some reverb and a touch of distortion for his solos. He also demonstrated graceful finger picking for an elegant, classically-inflected unaccompanied interlude. Performing outside his usual circle, Allison put aside his percussive techniques and focused on tasteful support, buoying the guitar with solid timing and feel and embellishing his solos with clever phrases that ranged the whole neck. During one bass feature, Strickland added an earthy texture with an effective groove, accomplished with bare hands on the snare drum. Throughout, the drummer added color, mimicked guitar licks and displaced accents, evincing a light but energetic touch that never overpowered. Skaff's show-stopping turn in the second set excited the crowd as well as himself and as the trio started to resemble the scorching weather, their set was over.

~ Sean Fitzell

Mose Allison at Iridium

With plenty of laurels of his own on which to rest, Mose Allison spent much of the time during the first set at Iridium on Jul. 8th borrowing branches from others. The Mississippi-born songwriter's ever-clever tunes have been covered by (among many others) Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Diana Krall, The Who and The Clash, but the only dip the pianist — who turns 80 this year — made into his own greatest hits during the set was "I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love , penned by blues great Willie Dixon. His trio — Harold "Ratzo Harris on bass and Tom Whaley on drums — opened with a sprightly instrumental that featured some quick, pizzicato bass that barely drowned out the clanking of cutlery. But the room began to quiet down when Allison started drawling about cell phones and city life against soft, upbeat backing. As the night progressed, Allison introduced songs by more and more of his Southern contemporaries: Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine , Hank Williams' "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time) , Percy Mayfield's "Stranger in My Own Home Town and some more obscure picks, giving them all annotated introductions. Allison comes off as a Southern sophisticate, a bit of Tennessee Williams in his Cole Porter. In 1957, he sang that the old man's got all the money. He might not have it all, but 50 years later he's certainly made his mark, spinning phrases for, and about, the masses.

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