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December 2005

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Muhal Richard Abrams closed the AACM's 40th anniversary season with solo piano and large ensemble sets at the Community Church of New York (Nov. 11th). His solo piece, "Life One Prelude , was approximately 45 minutes of high abstraction. Sparse atonal clusters grew into enveloping waves of sound as Abrams roamed the keyboard, often with crossed hands. Toward the end, a slow sequence of harsh dissonances and triadic resolutions brought a sense of form and closure.

Abrams' spellbinding orchestra, powered by bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Andrew Cyrille, included such stellar soloists as Howard Johnson (baritone sax), Bryan Carrott (vibes) and Marty Ehrlich (alto sax/clarinet). Conducting and playing occasional piano, Abrams steered the group through seamless transitions from improvised to written material. The feels ranged from free ("Life One ) to swing and funk ("Ritob and "Blues Idea ) to harmonically advanced chamber music ("Fluclana and "Fortex ). The band's flawless intonation came through in the shimmering minor-key ballad cadences of "My Kei which began with an impassioned duo between Carrott and Abrams. Johnson's baritone sax meditation at the outset of "Fortex was also a model of virtuosity and imagination. This was music of the spheres, with a lofty intention but also a whimsical sense - e.g., the band's synchronized and tightly executed rapping during "Blues Idea .

Roberta Piket's trio, with bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Billy Mintz, found precisely the right mix of fire and restraint in the small, easy-to-overpower Kitano Hotel lounge (Nov. 10th). An adept, modern-minded pianist, Piket began in Bill Evans-ish mode with "Everything I Love , finding lush chordal pathways and unexpected intervallic turns. Her revision of "You're My Everything , called "I'm My Everything , was complex, harmonically dark and brisk in tempo - but not as brisk as "Claude's Lament , a brand-new and daunting chart that tested Harris and Mintz' reading chops to the fullest (they aced the test). Piket also called her deft multi-meter arrangement of "Up, Up and Away , the 5th Dimension hit, which can be heard on her 2000 disc Speak, Memory. The set continued with the Bill Evans ballad "Laurie and Mintz' up-tempo burner "Flight . Last, on a brief but heartfelt "Blue Monk , Piket displayed an impressive handle on the blues and a personal take on Monk's fractured rhythmic language. Harris, complementing Piket's confident touch, summoned a beautiful tone from his Merchant vertical bass, anchoring more than a few low notes with his chin. One of jazz' most original bassists, Harris made jaws drop with every solo - particularly his unaccompanied interlude on "Flight . Mintz, laid-back and loose, with the lightest grip on his sticks, brushes and mallets, gave the music an introspective flavor.

~ David R. Adler


Venues for jazz come and go. Fortunately these past months have seen the former with openings of Enzo's Jazz in midtown and Night and Day in Park Slope. Brought to us by the same folks who run one of the Village's most pleasing jazz haunts - Cornelia St. Cafe's sister venue in Brooklyn looks to share a similar cast of programming. Vocalist Deborah Latz officially uncorked the new venue's music schedule (Nov. 6th) with Daniela Schaechter (piano), Debbie Kennedy (bass) and Elizabeth Keledjian (drums), their opening set featuring delectably interpreted jazz standards (save one original - "Jump In ).

The very live and intimate room quickly proved the sound system superfluous, notes reverberating off the newly installed cherry wood floors, glass ceiling with view of ominous rain clouds overhead and French doors looking out to passers-by. The dynamic Katz displayed a level of empathy in her choice material, volume never becoming the issue it may have under less sensitive a vocalist and trio. From her sultry controlled tone on "Witchcraft and personal rendition of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered , Katz warmly crooned to the venue's inaugural crowd with enunciating clarity and lyrical familiarity. She patiently worked through time-tested melodies found on her year-old debut Toward Love: "Lover Man , "The Thrill is Gone and of course the club's namesake - Cole Porter's "Night and Day .


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