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Live From New York

December 2004

By Published: December 16, 2004
It was hard to find an empty seat on closing night of the fifth annual Django Reinhardt Festival at Birdland (Nov. 14th). The week had seen guest appearances by Harry Allen, Paquito D'Rivera, James Carter, Gil Goldstein and Joel Frahm. But on Sunday Dave Samuels (vibes) and Peter Beets (piano) of Holland joined the drummerless house band of the week, led by the stunning Django disciple Dorado Schmitt. The first set began with the pure, elevated swing of Schmitt, rhythm guitarist Mayo Hubert and bassist Brian Torff playing "Madonna", "Swing 42" and "Tears". Unlike his colleague Bireli Lagrene, Schmitt is decidedly pre-bop in his approach, but his chops are about as impressive. There was more to this music than fingerboard acrobatics however. The trio's time feel was unshakeable; the melodies sang. Beets' initial features, "Ornithology" and "I've Found a New Baby", had a loose but spirited jam-session feel, as did Samuels' "All of Me" and "There Will Never Be Another You". Despite a language barrier on stage (Torff, not Schmitt, addressed the audience in English), the tunes were quickly called, simpatico quickly achieved.

No doubt, the Django sound is a jazz subspecialty, a niche; but there's hardly a music more crowd- pleasing. Schmitt is one of its true masters.

Flutist/composer Jamie Baum rolled into Sweet Rhythm (Nov. 11th) to celebrate the release of her stellar OmniTone disc Moving Forward, Standing Still and she managed to keep the studio personnel largely intact: Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Tom Varner on French horn, Doug Yates on alto sax and bass clarinet and Jeff Hirshfield on drums, with bassist John Hebert and pianist Jacob Sacks filling in for Drew Gress and George Colligan, respectively. Baum's second set began with new material. First was "Pine Creek", a bright 5/4 chart with punishing ensemble passages and long stretches of modal improv; then "Tag", a slower, swing-based tune with two independent lines moving in beautifully conceived counterpoint. Later, the new ballad "In Passing" featured Baum on alto flute and launched Hebert on the best solo of the night—no easy feat, since every soloist (particularly Alessi) was in fiery form. The album pieces seemed a formidable challenge live, but the group pounced on them, seguing from Trilok Gurtu's playful "From Scratch" into the "Rite of Spring"-inspired "Primordial Prelude", which highlighted Baum's deep understanding of Stravinskian dissonance. "In the Journey", a fast workout in a two-plus-three meter, pushed the set over the top, then to a close.

~ David Adler

The powerful reedman Frode Gjerstad came to Tonic (Nov. 16) for a special engagement made extra special by the at-first unfortunate cancellation of previously scheduled cornetist/trumpeter Bobby Bradford. To complement his first-ever all Norwegian trio, he instead invited unheralded vibraphonist Kevin Norton, the first vibes player he has ever played and recorded with (they recently released a duo improv, No Definitive). Norton helped create an altogether different and musically successful group concept, enveloping Gjerstad's at times fierce playing as an ideal foil while complementing the reliable exploratory pulse of Oyvind Storsund (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) who helped lead the group through various tempo surges in brazen fashion without overpowering. The threesome played like a longtime working unit, exploring sonic subtleties as a single voice while interweaving with Gjerstad's clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto saxophone.

Sheet music in front of Norton's vibes evidently was only for show, "to make the music seem more impressive, as if it were composed," Gjerstad put it to me post-set with regard to Norton's sly intentions! Two extended off-the-cuff group improvisations, plus a short slow tempo encore for bass clarinet, structurally came off compositionally convincing. And for a quartet that only had a soundcheck before playing together for the first time, that's saying something.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Regardless of their thoughts on the presidential election results, anyone at the Village Vanguard on Election Eve couldn't help but be pleased. These heavily politicized times inspired Charlie Haden to reconvene his Liberation Music Orchestra for a one-night-only performance. All the original participants apart from Haden and pianist Carla Bley had been replaced by younger players with the exception of Jazz Composers Orchestra veteran Sharon Freeman on French horn in a welcome return. The music, a tribute less to American composing than to the American spirit, was marked by a palpable feeling of humility. Given the allstar cast - with drummer Matt Wilson, trombonist Ray Anderson and saxophonists Chris Potter and Seamus Blake - the performance could have become unilateral blustering but thankfully did not. The music was originals by Haden and Bley ("Not in Our Name", "Blue Anthem") and covers ("America the Beautiful", Dvorak's "Going Home", Pat Metheny and David Bowie's "This is not America", Bill Frisell's "Throughout") with an absolutely glorious "Adagio" by Samuel Barber to close the set. Why was this a tribute to America? - Haden's blue collar bass, innovative piano, Blake's sentimental saxophone, Anderson's trend setting trombone and Wilson's productive drumming - everything that should make Americans proud. Charlie Haden for President.

~ Andrey Henkin

Craig Harris brought his Nation of Imagination into Sweet Rhythm for two nights of wildly diverse music from the AfroAmerican diaspora. Harris began the second show Saturday (Nov. 13th) on didgeridoo - blowing long primal tones behind poet Ghail Benjiman, setting the exotic mood that would continue throughout the night. Switching to trombone for "Doors Open" he played a masterful solo over the funky accompaniment of Calvin Jones' electric bass, Bahnamous Bowie's Fender Rhodes, the trap drums of Toney Lewis and African percussion by Abdou Mboup and Cheik Mbaye. Joined by vocalist Helga Davis, Harris chanted the song's chorus, "Call Me/ Holler Black" before Davis returned for a monologue celebrating black womanhood that erupted into an exciting talking drum solo by Mboup. An extended tone poem featuring Bowie's ethereal keyboards and an angelic wordless vocal by Davis opened "Unity", which had Harris singing before blowing a fiercely rhythmic line that got a couple from the audience dancing in the aisle. On "I Found God" Davis sang a gospel inspired lyric of self-realization in a spirited conversation with Bowie's organ and Harris' trombone. Benjamin took the song out of the church and into the bedroom with a sensual poem all about kisses. The set ended with the band's rousing rhythm revue styled theme song.

The Mingus Big Band started off the first set on November 9 in its new home at the Iridium auspiciously, with a fresh arrangement by bassist Boris Kozlov of a never-before-heard Charles Mingus composition called "Tensions". The performance, which featured some wild collective improvisation, proved that the Mingus songbook is still full of surprises. The band followed with another rarity from it's expansive repertory, a chestnut in the popular song form with lyrics by Mingus, called "Paris Blues", arranged by trombonist Earl McIntyre and featuring Frank Lacy's classic styled vocal, David Kikoski's barrelhouse piano, Abraham Burton soulful tenor and Kenny Rampton's muted trumpet.

The orchestra moved into more familiar territory with a raucous rendition of "Haitian Fight Song", opening with Kozlov's recreation of Mingus' famous solo bass introduction, followed by a screaming soprano outing by Craig Handy and fine work by trumpeter Ryan Kisor and trombonist Joe Feck preceding Kikoski's roof-raising piano solo. Wayne Escoffery's warm tenor was spotlighted on the beautiful Mingus ballad "Sweet Sucker Dance". before the band swung things out with John Stubblefield's arrangement of "Song With Orange" featuring Ronnie Cuber's baritone and Eddie Henderson's trumpet with Lacy leading the house through a handclapping interlude. The set ended with a joyous "Better Get Hit In Your Soul" that quoted "Goodbye Porkpie Hat".

~ Russ Musto

Recommended New Releases

– Art Ensemble of Chicago - Sirius Calling (Pi)

– Maurice Brown - Hip to Bop (Brown)

– Steve Howe/Martin Taylor - Masterpiece Guitars (P3 Music)

– Weber Iago - Children of the Wind (Adventure)

– Wolfgang Muthspiel - Solo (Material)

– Enrico Pieranunzi - Fellini Jazz (CamJazz)

~ David Adler (NY@Night Columnist)

– The Beat Circus - Ringleader's Revolt (Innova)

– David Berger/Sultans of Swing - Marlowe (Such Sweet Thunder)

– Julius Hemphill Sextet - The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed)

– Yusef Lateef - Live in London (Harkit)

– Kevin Norton/Bauhaus Quartet - Time-Space Modulator (Barking Hoop)

– Art Tatum - Vol.7: 1953-55 (Storyville)

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene (Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York)

– Anthony Braxton - Solo (Milano) 1979 Vol. 2 (Leo)

– Satoko Fujii Orchestra - Blueprint (Natsat)

– Sjöstrom/Rutherford/Wachsmann - WellSpring Suite (Cadence Jazz)

– Wadada Leo Smith Creative Orchestra - Lake Biwa (Tzadik)

– Cecil Taylor/Dominic Duval/Jackson Krall - All the Notes (Cadence Jazz)

– John Zorn - 50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 9 (Tzadik)

~ Bruce Gallanter (Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery)

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