October 2006

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the New School's innovative jazz program, which boasts alumni on the order of Brad Mehldau, Larry Goldings and Robert Glasper. To kick off the new academic season, guitarist Rory Stuart held a faculty concert in the school's intimate performance space (Sep. 5th), recruiting tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist Francesca Tanksley, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Ari Hoenig for the task. As Stuart observed in an aside, Tanksley has played in Harper's group for the past 23 years, so the interaction between them had a particular elegance, not to mention vehemence. Stuart is the furthest thing from a 'lick' player; his patient, clean and melodic phrasing follows the logic of the tune at hand. His mid-tempo 7/4 original "Ozymandias opened the show with something of an Elvin Jones-ish flavor. Next was Harper's "Croquet Ballet , a hard bop vehicle in 3/4, followed by Tanksley's "Journey Without Distance , its exotic modal textures soaring over a slow-crawling bass line. Workman introduced his own "Variation of III with a heated arco attack, setting the mood for the freest piece of the gig. Then Stuart called two more originals to close the evening: "The Forest , a Brazilian number of unusual, modern design that provoked some playful strumming by Workman; and "Reflections , based on the minimal chords of Coltrane's "Impressions , a feature for the tirelessly creative Hoenig behind the kit.

Even in the unpredictable cauldron of New York, one doesn't expect to hear a jazz set encompassing music from Tadd Dameron to Albert Ayler. But it happened during Dave Liebman's 60th birthday celebration at Birdland. The four-night run showcased the saxophonist with his working quartet and big band, as well as an all-star reunion with Randy Brecker and others. On the first night (Sep. 13th), however, Liebman paired with fellow tenorist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Jim Black to play music from 2005's Different But the Same (hatOLOGY). Sticking to tenor exclusively (rather than soprano), Liebman began "Tie Those Laces with a forceful unaccompanied statement. The band joined with a theme that set the tone for the night - offhanded precision, tension-filled interplay, rich dynamics, contrapuntal tenor lines and a wide spectrum of color from Black's drums and percussion. The group's three-headed arrangement of "What Is This Thing/Hot House/Subconscious-Lee occasioned some ferocious swinging. "It's a Samba , which Eskelin has recorded with Black and Andrea Parkins, was Black's moment - a mini-symphony involving a violin bow, a metal bowl and various other implements. Eskelin and Liebman traded inspired statements on the Wayne Shorter ballad "Vonetta , then closed the set with Ayler's "Ghosts , pooling their resources in a climb toward ecstasy.

~ David R. Adler

In the early '70s, drummer Horacee Arnold recorded two sublime albums of fusion easily the equal of anything released by his more renowned rhythmic brethren. He also played with Chick Corea during the pianist's brief flirtation with free improvisation and was part of Billy Harper's late '70s group. In the intervening years however, Arnold devoted much of his energy towards academic settings. But it was with great aplomb that he performed a set as part of the AACM season (Sep. 15th), his first in New York for 30 years. Arnold presented a program of three originals (including "Banyan Dance from his 1973 album Tribe) with a quartet of Marcus Strickland (sax), last-minute sub George Colligan (piano) and peer Buster Williams (bass). Arnold's playing was in no way tentative, replete with the precision one would expect from an educator and with a deliciously focused hyperactivity. He ably transferred the energy of the electric settings for which he was known into an acoustic one, due in no small part to melodic fortitude of his bandmates, especially Williams. His compositions are multifaceted, with rich coloration and a beauty reminiscent of Wayne Shorter. As part of a double bill (with drummer Thurman Barker's group), Arnold only played for 45 minutes but that allowed for thorough exposition of his cerebral themes. A perfectly conceived and executed set, Arnold is working on a new album and promises that more shows like this one are coming.

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