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November 2005

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The Brian Blade Fellowship has a way of reminding one why music (not just jazz) matters. Gigging and recording infrequently, the group has nonetheless moved many with its cathartic mini-symphonies, so this Village Vanguard engagement was hotly anticipated. With saxophonist Chris Cheek standing in for Melvin Butler, Blade's lineup was otherwise close to that of the 2000 classic Perceptual: Myron Walden on alto, Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Christopher Thomas on double bass and Jon Cowherd, who has composed a good deal of the band's book, on piano. (Alas, there was no pedal steel player.) The first Thursday set (Sep. 1st) opened with a majestic piano intro, paving the way for involved alto/tenor/guitar orchestration and gripping solos by Walden and Rosenwinkel. Accompanying these flights, as well as Cheek's finely calibrated statement on the next number, Blade seemed to read every mind on the bandstand, accenting micro and macro gestures with controlled fire. But "Evinrude-Fifty (Trembling) and "Variations of a Bloodline , both from Perceptual, were the centerpieces. "Variations began with a bass clarinet/ harmonium intro, identified by Ben Ratliff in the Times as "Alpha and Omega - although it closely paralleled "The Sunday Boys , an interlude that preceded "Variations on the album. Blade changed the scenery with subtle hand-drumming and though one could hear a pin drop, the music could not have grooved harder.

For five years running, the Jazz Gallery has presented "The Trumpet Shall Sound , a series pairing Roy Hargrove with a different fellow trumpeter each night. This September marked the Gallery's 10th year as a live music venue, a circumstance heralded by several marquee names. Darren Barrett, Claudio Roditi, Tom Harrell, Nicholas Payton and Marcus Belgrave all joined Hargrove and a house rhythm section - pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson. Being a New Orleanian, Payton almost had to cancel, so his appearance (Sep. 10th) had a certain post-Katrina resonance. Hargrove nudged the band into a precipitous "Alone Together , took the first solo and provoked alert responses from the drums. Payton followed, displaying a bit more presence and agility; his angular approach to the form's two extra bars drew cries of delight from the musicians in the house; His lines were no less adventurous on "Stablemates . Payton chose for a quartet feature Donald Byrd's upbeat "Fly Little Bird Fly , packed with chord changes that flattered the Mulgrew-esque Grissett. Hargrove's feature, on fluegelhorn, was "I Fall in Love Too Easily , played with a glowing, understated tone. The finale, a modified minor-blues original, began with stormy rubato swells and soon launched into a blistering 4/4 swing. In one of the set's most engrossing turns, Hargrove took his first few choruses with nothing but the bass behind him.

~ David Adler

Trombonist Steve Swell and Berlin multi-reed specialist Gebhard Ullmann took to the new impressive Brecht Forum space (Sep. 16th) by bringing in the quartet from their recent CD (Desert Songs & Other Landscapes, CIMP) with drummer Barry Altschul and 3-stringed (one broke) upright bassist William Parker (replacing Hilliard Greene). The comfortable first floor, though open loft-like, space naturally reverberated the acoustic performance, the double horn frontline forcefully lambasting echoed runs one moment, delicately and dynamically whispering notes off the floors and walls the next. Forthright in their solos, up-tempo and ballad alike - Ullmann and Swell's thick, dynamic harmonies melded seamlessly, showing why trombone and tenor have had such a lucrative relationship in jazz. For this group, Ullmann consciously and impressively showcases his flexibility and expertise on tenor over his other "first instrument - the bass clarinet, which he interestingly plays very tenor-like, focusing primarily and uniquely on the mid-range and altissimo register. He did, however, commonly switch between them, creating suite-like multi-movement compositions. Reminiscent of the NY Art Quartet (particularly Swell's brassy Roswell Rudd roots and Altschul's Milford Graves-like multi-rhythmic expertise), this quartet's tight heads and arrangements, intertwining improvisations around highly structured pieces, demanded undivided attention.


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