~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Conductions are strange beasts. They attempt, contrary to normal, to bring chaos to order. Butch Morris at the Tank (Oct. 12th), in a series curated by our own Ty Cumbie, has spearheaded this form over the years with an always rotating cast of participants. This instance was with a traditional jazz big band format with a keyboard and vibes thrown in for good measure. Morris' concept is essentially self-centered, his variety of hand signals used to focus the music to his direction, any improvisation or individual contributions strictly limited within Morris' constraints. For fans of complete freeform, this may be seem restrictive but in three 15-minute pieces during the orchestra's first set, the results were effective. Whether it was the space or the emphasis away from lots of saxophones, the music veered towards the serene with lots of waves right to left across the group. Morris at his best brings the conductor down to the level of the musician and the musician up to level of the conductor. What it does accomplish is allowing improvising musicians to see outside their own tonal range and work towards a larger product.
~ Andrey Henkin
Brad Mehldau brought his new quartet featuring saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard (the trio collectively known as Fly) into the Village Vanguard for a week of sold out performances before uniformly enthusiastic audiences. Beginning Wednesday's (Oct. 2nd) second set with a Chris Cheek composition "Granada" that found the pianist playing in a style somewhat reminiscent of Mal Waldron, only brighter, the group's members immediately proved they truly deserve their reputations for being among the most intelligent players in jazz today. Turner's sound was darker than usual, a cross between Shorter and Shepp, while his improvisations remained as thought provoking as ever. On a nameless Mehldau blues, the saxophonist returned to his lighter Warne Marsh/Lester Young-inspired sound, effectively complementing the leader's Monkish melodic lines. Switching to soprano, Turner paid homage to Steve Lacy with an intriguing tonality on another untitled Meldhau original that found the pianist playing impressionistic abstractions of his own melody. The group followed with a Nina Simone-inspired rendition of "Lilac Wine", on which Turner moved from funereal to matadorial flourishes over Mehldau's jagged lines, driven by Ballard's mallets. The band finished with an inventive arrangement of Coltrane's "Straight Street" featuring solos from Grenadier and Ballard and exciting exchanges between Mehldau and Turner with the drummer.
Nicholas Payton and Charles McPherson joined Bill Charlap's all-star trio with Peter Washington and Kenny Washington to kick off the opening of JALC's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola with four nights feting the music of Gillespie's small groups. The quintet embarked on an evening of authentic bebop Sunday (October 24) with an absorbing interpretation of "Hot House". McPherson effectively played the role of Bird to Payton's Diz as the two romped through Tadd Dameron's reconstruction of the chord changes to "What Is This Thing Called Love." Payton lyrical trumpet led off Parker's "Bloomdido," followed by McPherson's broad-toned alto and Charlap, whose statement steadily progressed in tempo and density, moving from Bud Powell influenced articulation into McCoy Tyner inspired clusters.
Payton was out front on "'Round Midnight" with McPherson contributing some elegant obligatti and a beautiful Birdlike solo. Everyone shined on Gillespie's "Woody 'n You," the trio sounding particularly good as Charlap's pounding left hand conversed with his articulate right and Kenny Washington's high-hat shaft tapping and ride cymbal feathering sensitively complemented Peter Washington's full-bodied bass solo. McPherson stepped into the spotlight for a gorgeous reading of "But Beautiful" before the band concluded the final set with a burning rendition of Bird's "Anthropology," with the trio cooking on all four burners ignited by the Washingtons' propulsive rhythms.
~ Russ Musto