At the new and thoroughly spruced-up Smalls, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen chaired a productive meeting with pianist George Burton, bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Damion Reid (June 11; bassist Chris Lightcap subbed on June 10). This was fierce, hard-bitten stuff and when Allen blew, Burton usually gave him the field and did not comp. The tempos were mostly up, the tunes sparse; one was simply a four-bar loop that yielded endless, swinging variations. Another was a bright Tyner-esque blues and the parting shot was a reshaped fragment of "Mr. P.C. At least two of the numbers began with rubato themes, precisely executed. With his burly sound and post-Trane harmonic sense, Allen managed to seize the attention of a fairly chatty crowd, at times leaping effortlessly to a higher register to drive home his point. Burton weighed in with several fine solos and was unafraid to let bars and bars elapse before making his move. (One yearned to hear him on a better piano.) Lepore was solid, if a bit low in the mix. But the biggest applause went up for Damion Reid, who filled space aggressively and swung the entire quartet into tomorrow.
During his third annual duo series at Jazz Standard, pianist Fred Hersch embarked upon his first-ever playing experience with Bob Brookmeyer (June 9). Those who've heard One Night In Vermont (Planet Arts), Brookmeyer's duo encounter with pianist Ted Rosenthal, are aware of the melodic purity that the master valve trombonist can achieve in this quiet setting. The Hersch/Brookmeyer duets, too, were all standards and they reached a consistently high level of inspiration, beginning with "Who Cares? Extending the Gershwin theme (and the "question theme) with "How Long Has This Been Going On? , Hersch improvised the kind of sultry big-band shout chorus that could have come from Brookmeyer's pen. At this subtle gesture and many others, Brookmeyer looked toward the keyboard and grinned. His horn was gentle in tone, rich in melodic narrative, exacting in its rhythmic and harmonic control. Hersch's musings were expansive, orchestral, full of spontaneity; Brookmeyer followed him through tricky curves and displacements on "Taking a Chance on Love, a slow "Someday My Prince Will Come, a bright "All Blues, a ruminative "Everything Happens to Me and an upbeat "The Song Is You. (Hersch's other duo partners for the week were Chris Potter, Ted Nash, Stefon Harris, Kate McGarry and Mark Turner.)
~ David Adler
The last day of May was the first of a weeklong residency at Dizzy's Club for the Heath Brothers, performing for the first time in NYC without eldest brother Percy, who passed away in April. Saxophonist Jimmy and youngest brother Albert "Tootie (celebrating septuagenarian status that day) carried on the Heath Brothers tradition in their inimitably swinging jovial fashion with veteran bassist Paul West and two youngsters whose mature sound belied their age: longtime Heaths' pianist Jeb Patton and guest trumpeter Sean Jones. Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama island rhythms showcased Jones' fiery trumpeting, while Jimmy's more controlled, though no less adventurous, solo provided an ideal foil. Patton's two-handed solo recalled Phineas Newborn, while Tootie's rhythms were syncopated, highly improvisational and the backbone for the tune's danceable meter. "Gingerbread Boy, Jimmy's best known composition (recorded by Miles, Jimmy joked, "That's good for my pockets! ), opened with extended unaccompanied drums. Patton surprisingly broke into a stride break, receiving thunderous applause. The sole ballad, "You've Changed, offered a gentler side to the dynamic Jones who delicately blew as if utilizing a mute. His spotlight on the closer, "Bags' Groove, emphasized spaces between the recognizable melodic progression. His momentously brassy solo culminated with a series of smeared bluesy notes. A perfect climax to a memorable evening.
Appropriate that in the apex of the June heatwave W.A.R.M.'s newly formed musical cauldron was centerstage opening eve of the Vision Festival (June 14) as its most highly anticipated set. Bassist Reggie Workman (W), drummer Pheeroan akLaff (A) and multi-instrumentalists Sam Rivers (R) and Roscoe Mitchell (M) debuted their all-star avant collective to a full house at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, improvising off two extended original compositions. Rivers' "One for All featured two tenors syncing on its catchy theme before showcasing distinct approaches; the reedier Mitchell frantically glided notes over one another with astonishing and musical circular breathing while Rivers (always with a firm foot in traditional and experimental) offered warmer breathier lines. When the two styles were placed adjacently, especially when overlapping and zigzagging rapid exchanges, a sole multi-dimensional linked instrument miraculously appeared. This in addition to the two's multi-textural flexibility of performing other instruments were the group's greatest strengths. Workman's "Impromptu opened with two tenors, Rivers and Mitchell adding flute and soprano sax, respectively. Workman seemed to be in his element, not only challenged but up for the challenge. His experimental undercurrent pulses helped drive the frontline, no small help from akLaff's rhythmic barrages. Finland's TUM Records documented this historic occasion and took the group into the studio, so look out for a future hot W.A.R.M. release.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Debunking the notion that everyone comes to New York if nowhere else, reedman Trevor Watts made his first ever appearance in New York (June 5) in a career that began in the '60s. The not-so-sparse as usual crowd at CB's Lounge were treated not to the insect music Watts created with John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but a duo exploration of the African rhythmic tradition, as done by alto and soprano saxophone (Watts) and congas, djembe and darbouka (Jamie Harris). This was no Interstellar Space; rather this was tribal dance music (one woman did even get up and boogie) with swirling celebratory melodies. There were five pieces penned by Watts ("Three and more, "'L' Heaven, "Sopata, "Multiki and "Ancestry ), all firmly based in a primal theme-and-variations mode. When on alto, the music tended more towards jazz; soprano heralded a more ethnic bent. The one constant was Watts' earthy approach to the saxophone, more communicative than intellectual. Another accomplished British circular breather, Watts used the difficult technique organically instead of as a disconnected exercise, extending melodic lines within pieces and then switching back to long tones. The tunes were relatively short but felt satisfyingly complete; the closing "Ancestry was the longest, energizing the crowd with Harris' chanting and several false endings.
There is a hackneyed old phrase: "music in search of a movie. Some enterprising moviemaker should turn this around and create a movie based on the intricate twists of the music of Abaton. Playing in a sweltering Stone (June 9), the trio - Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Mark Feldman (violin) and Erik Friedlander (cello) - played the music from their sole release (ECM, 2004). That album was two discs, one fully composed, the other completely improvised. The material for the performance was the composed side, four pieces done in the order found on the album. Though the musicians are steeped in the downtown tradition, Abaton resides more in the classical vein and the pieces each are chamber works, with nods to the adagios, allegros and scherzos one might find in symphonies. Courvoisier composed all the music, leaving ample room for stirring improvisation within the sometimes densely written sections. She also displayed the generosity of a composer by letting her cohorts lead much of the melodic proceedings while she provided harmonic (or dissonant or even cinematic) underpinning. The improvised sections acted as interludes between the composed sections and were dominated at different times by different members of the trio. The closing "Abaton was full of galloping unison themes with a full palette of tonal ranges. Somewhere a Hollywood car chase needs this group.
~ Andrey Henkin
Arturo O'Farrill took a break from his regular duties leading the Chico O'Farrill and Jazz at Lincoln Center AfroLatin Orchestras to celebrate the release of his new ZOHO Music CD, Live In Brooklyn, with his trio at Manhattan's Cornelia Street Café (June 14). O'Farrill started the evening with a thoughtful improvised piano introduction to Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes, then took it up a notch when he was joined by Dafnis Prieto on drums (playing brushes) and Greg Ryan (filling in admirably at the last minute for Andy Gonzalez) on bass. The mood brightened further for the AfroCuban classic "Cachita, with Prieto playing with sticks and hands, his drums sounding alternately like congas and timbales on a thrilling solo.
O'Farrill began the next selection with a piano prelude before going into "Little Susan, a pretty Randy Weston composition written for the leader's wife when she was a child. The pianist soloed gracefully on the melody and then comped percussively behind Ryan's solo, at one point sending all the music flying off the piano. The trio increased the level of intensity further on Carla Bley's "Walking Batterie Woman, abstracting it such as to sound at times like the Cecil Taylor Unit. O'Farrill concluded the set by returning to his Latin roots with a beautiful version of "Siboney.
Multi-instrumentalist Dana Leong brought his multinational World Tribe band to the Jazz Gallery (June 9) to premiere new works and arrangements written specifically for the unique group featuring Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuña, Columbian harpist Edmar Castandeda, Japanese koto player Miya Masaoka and AfroAmerican percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell. The group opened with "Bona Fide, a Leong composition for his hip-hop band that took on a hard-bop character with Acuña doubling the spirited melody with the leader's trombone and then soloing with his cello. Castaneda, who has an inimitable approach to his instrument, was next with a typically exciting solo, followed by Masaoka's koto, which concluded the piece with a Far Eastern ambiance.
Leong's distinctive arrangement of Debussy's "Reverie was introduced by the two harpists accompanied by Bell on bell tree before the leader entered playing the classic melody on cello, joined by Acuña who sang her notes with an intriguing dark tonality. An exhilarating Leong composition, "Fire Song, featured Bell's hand drumming driving the string players and Acuña, whose voice gently faded into the background to end the piece. A stirring trio arrangement of the AfroCuban classic "Obsessión featured Acuña's vocal with Leong and Castaneda was followed by a group improvisation that permitted the group's members to demonstrate their distinguishing virtuosity. The set concluded peacefully with "Amen, the pastoral third movement of a longer Leong suite.
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Releases:
· Agrazing Maze - At the End of the Day (Foxhaven)
· The Great Jazz Trio - S'Wonderful (Columbia)
· Guillermo Klein Y Los Guachos - Live In Barcelona (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
· Kneebody (Greenleaf/Premonition)
· SFJazz Collective (Nonesuch)
· Myron Walden - This Way (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
· Dena DeRose - A Walk in the Park (MAXJAZZ)
· James Finn - Plaza de Toros (Clean Feed)
· Rick Germanson - You Tell Me (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
· Terry Gibbs - Feelin' Good: Live in Studio (Mack Avenue)
· David Gibson - The Path to Delphi (Nagel Heyer)
· Mingus Big Band/Orchestra/Dynasty - I Am Three (Sue Mingus Music-Sunnyside)
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, managing editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Hamid Drake - Bindu (Rogue Art)
· Dennis Gonzalez - Idle Wild (Clean Feed)
· Barry Guy New Orchestra - Oort Entropy (Intakt)
· Gerry Hemingway - The Whimbler (Clean Feed)
· Vijay Iyer - Reimagining (Savoy)
· Jamie Saft - Astaroth (Tzadik)
~ Bruce Gallanter, proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery