Since the 11th anniversary of Dizzy Gillespie’s passing in January, former Diz pianist and musical director Mike Longo has been presenting jazz concerts every Tuesday at the newly christened John Birks Gillespie Auditorium at the Baha’i Center. Though still developing an audience - and reputation - the music has been without question first rate (as such was the case on March 23rd). Hal McKusick, one of jazz’ warhorse legends at near 80-years old, has been busy teaching in the far eastern stretches of Long Island but made the special trip to New York to perform, a first in over 20 years! His reed-heavy nonet incorporated a unique instrumentation of tenor (McKusick), two altos (Jerry Dodgion and Jay Brandford), baritone (Scott Robinson), trombone (Mark Patterson), trumpet (Vitoly Golovnev), and piano (Longo), bass (Martin Wind) and drums (Tim Horner).
From Longo’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Silver’s Serenade” to Neal Hefti’s “Why Not” (the latter a fine feature for dueling altos), McKusick’s small “big band” concept propelled an assured big band sound. “Round Midnight” showcased the leader’s cool warm tone amongst the predominant reeds, exquisitely arranged here and throughout by either Longo or Michael Abene (the originally scheduled pianist). Another Monk tune “Bye-Ya” featured a monstrous baritone solo by Robinson, who pushed the limits of his cumbersome horn as if it were a piccolo while maintaining a burly sense of tone and timely control. The Oliver Nelson-ish “Blues Shout” carried extensive solos by Longo and Golovnev, and Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” at times revealed an interestingly butter-thick sounding trumpet-like tone of McKusick’s.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
When Peter Brötzmann’s Die Like a Dog group played at Tonic last year, the set ended with Brötzmann on tarogato, William Parker on sintir and Hamid Drake on frame drum. Last month’s performance (March 4th) at Tonic began that way instead, almost continuing a long-interrupted conversation. The meat of the show came after Brötzmann switched to alto for a few minutes of solo squawkery; after a chilling shriek, Drake and Parker dropped in on drum kit and bass respectively and contributed the most inventive moments of the 50-minute free improvisation. Brötzmann has made a name for himself as an unrelenting ferocious player but a kindler, gentler saxophonist is emerging, sprinkling long tone portions in between barrages. When he is himself, disgorging bleak wails, usually of the same intensity and phrase length, the trio relies heavily on the textural variety of Parker and Drake, honed from many encounters together. What makes them so valuable is neither is afraid to repeat ideas or to set up a discernable beat and Brötzmann’s attack benefits from the contrast. A shorter piece to finish the set lacked none of the force of the first but did miss some of the diversity, feeling at times tacked on. The opening exploration was more than sufficient to sate the hot crowd.
In the moments before George Garzone and The Fringe began their set at Cornelia Street Café on March 12th, there was an expectant hush. The room was filled with students – Garzone is a prominent music educator – and the evening had as much an air of a popular lecture as a Friday evening performance. A few weeks prior to the show, I had obtained copies of the group’s first two privately released LPs; 23 years later the group has lost none of its intensity but gained the subtlety that comes with maturity. The Fringe percolates, like a tightly covered boiling pot. The cooking parallel is an apt one: the music has moments of chopping, dicing, julienning, simmering, searing, each done in a very deliberate and necessary order. On the six tunes, Garzone’s incredible range of tone was on display: like fellow Italian Joe Lovano, he makes you very aware of the air blowing through his horn. After so many years together, the Fringe, with Bob Gulotti on drums and John Lockwood on bass, react with an organic empathy very rare in today’s era of supergroups. Some numbers were the traditional Fringe freakouts and others wove together more sinuous threads; Garzone quoted “There’ll Never Be Another You” to close one tune and breathed nonsensical spoken phrases through his horn to begin another. The most important lesson Garzone and company taught the assembled student body is to always have fun in your playing.
~ Andrey Henkin