Over the course of six nights, the "JazzItaliano in New York" festival brought seldom-seen faces to a number of New York bandstands. At Smoke (Mar. 4th), alto and soprano saxophonist Rosario Giuliani teamed with pianist Pietro Lussu, bassist Gianluca Renzi and drummer Marcello Di Leonardo and made a huge sound, playing music from 2002's Mr. Dodo and a forthcoming Dreyfus release (Giuliani's third), More Than Ever. Giuliani sounds almost like a tenor player, closer to Trane than to Cannonball. His group balances intensity and sensitive rapport in a way that rivals the current Branford Marsalis quartet. "London By Night" opened the set with awe-inspiring cohesion and inspired blowing; "Sortie" involved tough but seemingly effortless rhythmic challenges (11/8 in the A section, 12/8 in the bridge). Giuliani switched to soprano for Richard Galliano's "J.F." (dedicated to the bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark), as well as Michel Petrucciani's "Home", which had the feel of an early Keith Jarrett rock ballad. The set finale yielded another blood-on-the-floor alto solo but also some highly attuned interplay between Giuliani and Renzi. The McCoy-inspired Lussu was more than able to burn, but equally adept at leaving wide swathes of space. As Italian as these players were, their sound was pure New York.
Tanya Kalmanovitch showcased her bandleading and viola/violin chops at Cornelia Street Café (March 2) with two different groups. Her first set was with Major Over Minor, a string trio with Rob Thomas on violin and Lindsey Horner on bass, playing music based on Béla Bartók's works for two violins. Horner set the tempos and laid rhythmic foundations for the violin solos, in which Bartók's acrid melodic lanuage became a springboard for brilliant jazz musings. "Painful Struggle" (originally a piano study) was brooding and mournful; "Mosquito Dance" was a snappy movement that seemed to chase its own contrapuntal tail. The second set featured the Hut Five quartet, with Pete McCann on guitar, John Hebert on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Kalmanovitch stuck mainly to viola here; her dark sound meshed beautifully with the guitar and never got drowned out, even with the group at its rockingest (on "Manic Depression", for instance). McCann's fuzz and envelope effects gave the set an extroverted push, without obliterating dynamic subtlety. Kalmanovitch's originals and adaptations touched upon Bartók as well and this seemed to suit Hebert perfectly (his own Bartók readings can be heard on the OmniTone disc Change of Time). Hut Five's two discs for Perspicacity feature a different lineup (Kalmanovitch, Howard, Rick Peckham, Ronan Guilfoyle) and are well worth hearing.
~ David Adler
Perhaps best appreciated in jazz clubs with her intimate style, Abbey Lincoln unquestionably deserves sold-out concert halls. Accompanied by her longtime trio (pianist Marc Cary, bassist Michael Bowie, drummer Jaz Sawyer), Lincoln's single set at Aaron Davis Hall (Mar. 11th) was the best of both worlds. Greeted with a standing ovation, the tone was set for the remainder of the evening. The audience knew it, as did the near 75-year old Lincoln who sang with sincerity and confidence that was infectious and encouraging. Following the vocal opener "Conversations With a Baby", the singer requested - as if singing a lyric - that the house lights be brought up, "I can't see anyone... it's dark!" Always an interactive experience between Lincoln and her audience and never singing for her own vanity, she needed to see and feel to whom she was singing. "Throw It Away" summoned a church-like response of re-encouraging shouts and appreciative hollers from the Harlem audience. Her smoky tenor sax-like delivery allowed each syllable to waft through the air like rings from a cigarette. Lincoln - an endangered treasure second to none - served as a reminder to the legacy she now almost solely represents. And with the encore, "Whatcha' Gonna Do", the vocalist proved she really needs but three words to get the message across.
The modern-day jazz supergroup Sax Summit features veteran saxophonists Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano with the top-caliber rhythm section of Billy Hart (drums), Cecil McBee (bass) and Phil Markowitz (piano). Four nights last month they packed Birdland, jolting those in attendance with first-rate improvisations and interplay.