This gig was set to be an example of complete polar opposites, from the bands of two veteran saxophonists. The Brooklynite soprano (and sopranino) player Joe Giardullo was leading a chamber septet, performing a selection of works that he terms 'G-2,' the 'g' being short for Gravity. Here, it was his "Triangle/Circle/Square" sequence, a suite that inhabits the rarefied sound vocabulary of modern classical composition. Giardullo's music sounds like the product of a too-tidy mind. The opening piece is a string quartet statement, full of dissonant sweeps and flurries. Then, Giardullo hoods his soprano bell over the microphone, investigating close-up interior sounds of breath emission, partnered by drummer Harvey Sorgen's cymbal shimmers. Next up, it's a piano solo, courtesy of Chris Chalfant, and finally, another string quartet section. It's highly frustrating that Giardullo separates out the colors of his palette in such a manner, diligently examining their individual qualities, but failing to combine them in a convincing group communication. Why bother assembling a band if they're not going to play together? Why be so boringly logical? It's not that some of the sounds weren't palatable, but Giardullo's music was anything but dynamic, spontaneous or organic.
If these qualities were desired, they arrived in a copious rush during the evening's second half: a full onslaught by the inspirational Oliver Lake Big Band. Yes, saxophonist Lake is diligent, organised and logical, but he also possesses many more qualities besides, mostly of a spontaneously swinging nature, whether emerging from the zones of free abstraction or out of the stomping blues. Lake is totally in command of his forces, but he's always prompting outbreaks of spontaneous invention. It's as if he's saying 'go to it: do what you do best,' and of course, his ranks invariably oblige. Even if Lake's sudden promptings are pre-meditated, they don't look that way: they appear wildly of-the-moment, sudden spurrings into stab-blasts, or riffed underlinings, or textured swellings. Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding delivers a particularly ripping solo, but Lake himself is no slouch, using the big band as a linear backdrop while he embarks on a strategically extreme yowling passage, uninhibited yet operating within fine strictures. When the trombones open the set with a sequence of individual fanfares, their contributions are garrulous, varied and enjoyably loose, before coagulating into a swinging spread. The limber rhythm trio, over in the far corner, rolls away underneath the mayhem. Lake operates within such a grooving universe, but his time is always open to flights of free freaking, controlled and unshackled at once. He has it all...
The Jimmy Heath Big Band
April 5, 2008
Not surprisingly, tenor man Jimmy Heath leads a big band that's more firmly grounded in the crossing over of swing and bebop traditions. Even though he's not necessarily most-known as a big band leader, more as a Heath Brother, Jimmy was already heading up just such an aggregation way back in the late 1940s. Nowadays, instead of relaxing into a figurehead position, he opts to take frequent solos, which are invariably supple, well-toasted and display a good deal of bite. The first set at Iridium suffered from a completely sold out house being somewhat unsettled in their scramble for food and beverages, and one corner's long table was set on a mission to chatter, not only during the quiet stretches, but over the bandleader's tale-telling rambles in-between each number. Towards the end, the band picked up its pace, and the audience submitted into paying full attention. The second set was more relaxed, from an audience perspective, but not within Heath's blowing ranks. Here, the solos took on an increasingly heated nature, with Jimmy directing the band with visible relish. Seemingly every one of Heath's compositions has a background story, whether involving amusing anecdotes about his time with Dizzy Gillespie, his continuing marital success (during which an audience member shouts out that his "Project S" stands for Sex), or Heath's dedication to fellow saxophonist Antonio Hart.