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November 2006

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Sitting down to play duets with guitarist Lionel Loueke at Merkin Hall (Oct. 9th), pianist Robert Glasper confided that he was "casually scared . In truth, Loueke, his partner and soon-to-be Blue Note labelmate, has given performances more stunning than this one. But he and Glasper made their imaginative way through Loueke's "Benny's Tune , Glasper's "Chant and a jittery, playful take on Miles' "Solar . Between Glasper's inspired harmonic choices and Loueke's mix of pure and processed tones, it was a memorable encounter, leaning toward the loosely structured and impressionistic. In the second half, with bassist/songwriter Me'shell Ndegéocello, Glasper walked a straighter line through Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story and Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It . Ndegéocello kept solid, soulful time on Fender electric. Then came the jam session. Loueke reemerged; drummer Chris Dave played paper, pens and music stand on a trippy "Afro Blue ; the three principals continued with a beautiful, contemporary "Naima . Ndegéocello closed by singing a new original song, switching to acoustic guitar and then back to bass. Her lingua franca of jazz, hiphop and pop/R&B had a big impact on children of the '90s like Glasper, so the rapport at Merkin was vitalizing. Loueke added tasteful fills, like a West African Larry Carlton.

Amir ElSaffar, the Iraqi-American trumpeter, is perfectly suited for the annual Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) music. He is a virtuoso on the horn, but also an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble. Accomplished in the jazz and Western classical fields, ElSaffar has also immersed himself in the Iraqi maqam. Much as Vijay Iyer has done with Carnatic music, ElSaffar is bringing the maqam - the urban classical music of Iraq - into contact with jazz. At Makor (Oct. 5th), during the second month of FONT, ElSaffar played an extended work called "Two Rivers , signifying the Tigris and Euphrates but also the commingling of musical worlds. He began the set on santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer. For a time the group seemed physically split between East and West - with ElSaffar, violinist/oudist/percussionist Zaafer Tawil and buzuq player/pianist Tareq Abboushi on the left and altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits on the right. Gradually the boundaries blurred; ElSaffar migrated to a standard trumpet and a cornet with a slide, to enable microtones. The music ranged from mournful rubato song to raging New York-style improvisation. Waits took to the mix of rhythms with relish and skill. When ElSaffar returned to santoor, he began to vocalize in authentic maqam style, to haunting effect.

~ David R. Adler


On the eve of his 73rd birthday, New York veteran tone artist Phill Niblock had what could have been a party surrounded by his spiritual godchildren. The next night he had a proper party at Experimental Intermedia, his longtime home and performance loft on Centre Street. But on Oct. 1st, as a part of the second-to-last act on the last night of the Erstquake festival at Tonic, Niblock was among sonic family. It was one of the longest and richest of the 20 sets (although nothing like Niblock's 6-hour solstice shows) during the four-night festival, which was produced by the New York-area labels Erstwhile, Quakebasket and Little Enjoyer . Like a frog placed in a pot that can't sense the water getting hotter, his duo with Jason Lescalleet slowly grew to considerable volume (except perhaps to Niblock, who, by the end had his loops in place, his eyes meditatively closed and his hands over his ears). Lescalleet crawled around the stage strewn with several generations of gear while Niblock set up at a small, tidy table on the side of the stage, making for an interesting bit of generation bending. Niblock relied on a sleek set-up of CD player, mixing board and a couple of effects while Lescalleet physically manipulated vintage reel-to-reel players and low line plastic keyboards, twisting sounds out of equipment Niblock could have used in college. After an hour, they had created a trembling sentience, a thing with a life of its own that could not easily be stopped.

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