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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).

Boston-based pianist Donal Fox has been performing his "Monk and Bach Project" for five years with a rotating rhythm section and stellar results. He may though have recently found perfect foils in George Mraz (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) during last month's week-long residency at Dizzy's Club, the project's NYC debut. Fox, equally steeped in jazz and classical, utilizes Monk and Bach as mere samples of his cross-genre proficiency. On Dec. 7th, he showcased original arrangements as his trio broke new ground that the MJQ and pianist Jacques Loussier explored but only in a more mainstream sense. The spontaneity in the improvisational-based performances framed by Fox' understanding and virtuosity in both idioms allowed him naturally to incorporate and explore themes of each on moment's notice, resulting in a personal combination of the two. Mraz' omnipresence as one of jazz bass' most under-rated veterans provided an anchor much like Percy Heath with deep yet concise and always melodic playing ("Blues for Handel"). Nash, a one-man band, weaved simultaneous rhythms without breaking a sweat (Monk's "Bright Mississippi"). Rhythmically and melodically always in tune, the three swung through Schumann's "Kinderscenen, Op.15 no. 1" while interspersing Bach embellishments into "Cinema Paradiso". The encore brought the group's namesake to the fore: Monk's "Ugly Beauty" seamlessly fused with Bach's "Little Prelude in C minor".

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene


Fresh off a triumphant performance with The Thing earlier in the week, Norwegian rhythm section mates Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (electric bass) joined with another Scandinavian, Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, for the US debut of The Scorch Trio (Dec. 2nd). The occasion was the 49th birthday celebration for Manny Maris of Downtown Music Gallery held at Bowery Poetry Club. Whereas The Thing is a fully cooperative trio, Scorch, by virtue of Björkenheim's array of 6- and 12-string electric guitars and viola de gamba, is an improv rock trio akin to Cream in its musical hierarchy.

The music was loud as befitted the instrumentation and Flaten exceeded what might otherwise have been a limited role by incorporating lots of effect pedals and pummeling the neck of the bass, a carryover from his unique style on upright. Nilssen-Love had to substitute subtlety for sheer power just in order to be heard at times, limiting somewhat his impressive vocabulary. Björkenheim though was in his element, a mix of Sonny Sharrock and Jimi Hendrix, with all the guitarist faces audiences love. The music was at its most interesting when the guitar lines resolved into atypical cadences, punctuated by Nilssen-Love's fractured rhythms. When the music reduced in volume for the second piece, Björkenheim could be more textural and inventive, to the benefit of the improvisations and this reviewer's eardrums.

Listeners worried that saxophonist Joe Lovano has set aside some of his more visceral tendencies in the past couple of years should have attended his duet set with drummer Idris Muhammad at Sweet Rhythm on Dec. 15th. Part of the club's month of sax-drums collaborations, Lovano and Muhammad channeled some of the energy peers Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali must have left in the room from the week before.

The opening free improv, leading into Sonny Rollins' rousing "Airegin", set the tone for the evening and showed off Lovano's versatility on both his usual tenor and the club debut of his aulochrome, a fused double soprano sax with an extended tonal range. The second tune, an original blues by Lovano featured his alto clarinet in tight lockstep with Muhammad's cymbal heavy rhythms. By the time the duo had dispensed with Lovano's "Blackwell's Message" (for Ed Blackwell) and the standard "A Weaver of Dreams", any resemblance to Interstellar Space was supplanted by a thoroughly gutbucket blues sensibility. The closing "Lonnie's Lament" was played in a much more straight foward manner than the rest of the set, or even how the tune was played originally by Coltrane. In fact, the whole set, apart from the 30 minute opener was a refreshing mixture of freedom within structure, Lovano in his raspy glory and Muhammad playing the stiff rhythms that any drummer whose roots lay in R&B, Lou Donaldson and Pharoah Sanders would play.

~ Andrey Henkin


Multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum brought his New York Hieroglyphics into the Jazz Gallery for a rare area appearance. The second set Saturday (Dec. 10th) began with the leader playing a plaintive dirge on melodica over a deep bottom supplied by Patrice Blanchard's electric bass and Norbert Satchel's bass saxophone. The horns, led by trombonist Josh Roseman and trumpeter Peck Allmond, came in and Apfelbaum switched to tenor as drummer Dafnis Prieto picked up the tempo. Guitarists David Phelps and Viva DeConcini joined the fray next - the resultant sound resembling a meeting of the Liberation Music Orchestra and the Mothers of Invention. The suite-like piece continued with Apfelbaum playing piano, moving from folkish African melodies to slow stride to Tyner-ish torrents. Switching back to tenor, he led the group through a mechanistic big band interlude featuring a duet with tenorist Tony Jones. Apfelbaum then put down his horn to accompany with an array of percussion, including bicycle bells, in a spacey interlude with Charles Burnham's violin. Jessica Jones soloed on alto leading into a call and response section with a walking bass line. African vocalist Abdoulaye Diabate added yet another element to the mix. A second piece began with Apfelbaum playing gospel tinged piano, moving into rocking rhythms and a samba section. The finale featured Diabate vocalizing over a polyphonous blending of jazz, Middle Eastern and African melody and rhythm.

New York City's resident hard bop sextet One For All returned to their 'headquarters' uptown at Smoke for two nights of burning straight ahead jazz. Friday night's second set (Dec. 9th) featured the band stretching out on a couple of its staples, beginning with pianist David Hazeltine's Messenger-ish ode to Cedar Walton "The Poo" and closing with the group's collaboratively composed theme "Nothin' To It". In between the group grooved on tenor man Eric Alexander's arrangement of Bill Lee's classic "John Coltrane", which opened with a virtuoso solo bass introduction by David Williams and featured powerful statements from Alexander and trumpeter Jim Rotondi, driven by Joe Farnsworth's propulsive stick and brush work. Trombonist Steve Davis' mellow sound was spotlighted on the set's ballad feature "You Don't Know What Love Is".

The night's final show began with Rotondi's swinging title track to the group's first outing, "Too Soon To Tell", followed by Farnsworth's Eastern- tinged "I See You Brother", which featured muted trumpet wrapped warmly in the harmonies of Alexander and Davis. San Francisco vocalist Kim Nalley sat in for a beautiful rendition of "The Very Thought of You" with exemplary accompaniment from Hazeltine and then swung a straight ahead blues with the band. The satisfying set ended with Hazeltine's soulful "We All Loved Eddie Harris".

~ Russ Musto


Recommended New Releases:

· Edsel Gomez - Cubist Music (Zoho) · Ari Hoenig - Kinetic Hues (Smalls DVD) · Ryan Kisor - This Is Ryan (Videoarts) · Michel Lambert - Le Passant (rant) · David Murray - Waltz Again (Justin Time) · Loueke/Nemeth/Biolcati - Gilfema (Obliqsound)

~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist

· Louie Belogenis - Unbroken (Tick Tock) · Tim Berne's Paraphrase - Pre-Emptive Denial (Screwgun) · Joe Fiedler - Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (Clean Feed) · Rubén Gonzalez - Momentos (Escondida Music) · Earl May Quartet - Swinging the Blues (Arbors) · Reuben Radding - Intersections (Pine Ear Music)

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York

· Anthony Braxton Quintet - [London] 2004 (Leo) · Zé Eduardo/Jack Walrath Quartet - Bad Guys (Clean Feed) · Exploding Customer - Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (Ayler) · Satoko Fujii Quartet- Angelina (Libra) · Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orchestra - Study II/Stringer (Intakt) · Otomo Yoshihide New Jazz Orchestra - Plays Dolphy's 'Out to Lunch' (Doubt)

~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery


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