January 2006

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At Makor (Dec. 14th), guitarist Joel Harrison premiered an extended five-movement composition titled "The Wheel", employing double-quartet instrumentation that bring Patrick Zimmerli's jazz/classical hybrids to mind. Harrison is more the Americana buff, however; violinists Todd Reynolds and Christian Howes conveyed that flavor early in the first movement "American Farewell". The suite involved dense interplay between strings (with violist Caleb Burhans and cellist Wendy Sutter) and an efficient horn section featuring trumpeter Russ Johnson and alto saxophonist David Binney. Bassist Lindsey Horner and drummer Dan Weiss provided the rhythmic juice. Harrison added guitar colors on the middle three movements but did not solo. The brisk patterns and ostinatos of the first movement led to the haunting 5/4 lope and trumpet solo of "Blues Circle". Sutter opened the third movement "Rising" with angular cello lines, setting up a bright tempo and a scorching Binney solo over a straight-eighth feel in seven. The fourth movement "We Have Been the Victims of a Broken Promise" evoked a dark and wistful mood, with cello in the lead melody. Horner and Reynolds weighed in with passionate improvisations. The finale "Ceaseless Motion" began with polyrhythmic violins and worked up to another heated Binney solo, with Weiss (Binney's drummer of choice) fanning the flames.

Saxophonist/composer Patrick Zimmerli is in the midst of a year-long residency at the Triad, bringing different ideas and guests to the bandstand every other Sunday. The eighth concert in the series (Dec. 4th) opened with a set from Zimmerli's Emergence, an unusual grouping for soprano sax, piano, electric bass, keyboards/digital sound, string quartet and percussion. Playing selections from the recent Songlines disc Phoenix, the band also featured violinist Yoon Kwon on a lush arrangement of "The Shadow of Your Smile" and cellist Patrick Jee on "Stone Elegy". Zimmerli's writing, melodic and rhythmically complex, gained much from the earthy percussion of Satoshi Takeishi, who was seated on the floor. Jeff Andrews subbed for Stomu Takeishi on bass.

Following an improvised electro-acoustic interlude by Takeishi and pianist/sound sculptor Shoko Nagai, Zimmerli presented excerpts from his opera-in-progress Lucia, featuring guest vocalists Virginia Warnken, Eileen Clark and Nick Hallett. Workshopping Lucia has been a main purpose of the Triad residency thus far and the group is playing Zimmerli's charts with bracing vigor and precision. In addition to his jazz doings, Zimmerli is a prolific voice in contemporary classical music, but his work is refreshingly beyond category. His opera, based on the life of James Joyce's daughter, with libretto by Christine Zorzi, has the makings of a genre-smashing event.

~ David R. Adler

Though what month isn't one for jazz piano in NYC, December seemed particularly piano-heavy with duo piano concerts at Merkin Hall, Birdland and Jazz Gallery, the latter with five straight piano duo nights in the midst of their 10th Anniversary celebration. Qualifying as a late entry into one of this year's best performances (Dec. 16th), pianists Vijay Iyer and Amina Claudine Myers gelled so naturally they achieved the rare feat of two distinct stylistic pianists sounding like one. In Myers' own words, "Playing with Vijay is like playing with myself!" The two naturally complemented each other without reluctance, nor being overtly preoccupied with one's own or the other's playing, comping as mere background or regressing to competitive tactics - all common detractors to this unique instrumentation. On pianos of legends (once belonging to Carmen McRae and Paul Desmond respectively), the two displayed an immediate trust in this first-time collaboration, performing an even mix of originals (Iyer's previously recorded "Plastic Bag"), 'free' creations ("By Way Of" found Iyer letting as much hair down as Myers' beautiful long braids) and standards (Monk's "Bemsha Swing" theme arose from a Radiohead-like repetition from Myers' "My True Love" opening, Iyer subtly pressing strings with one hand while striking keys with the other, a percussive effect that eventually and ideally insinuated Monk).

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