For a guitarist who keeps a fairly low profile, Rory Stuart drew a truly impressive crowd at Cornelia Street Café (April 10th). Stuart, who has taught at the New School since 1992, displayed a rare purity of tone and a smart compositional sense during an engaging and often heated set the heat coming mainly from tenor saxophonist Mark Shim. There were certain echoes of Sonny Rollins with Jim Hall, although the underexposed Shim sounds more like Joe Henderson filtered through Coleman Hawkins. Bassist Brandon Owens and drummer Ari Hoenig dealt expertly with Stuart's provocative mix of cerebral cool and swinging fire. "The Same Old Same Old" put telltale hard bop devices to playful use; "Unexpected Path" combined an off-kilter rhythmic phrase with James Brown-inspired funk; "Wednesday's Child," a lyrical waltz, led into the extremely difficult melody and fast tempo of Shim's "Crazy," which found Stuart playing through an octave pedal and trading with Shim furiously. Finally, "Blues in Three Tempos," which also seemed to involve three keys, could have sounded like an exercise but was in fact a brilliant composition, an elaboration of a simple shout-chorus figure.
You may have heard trumpeter Shane Endsley with Mike McGinnis's excellent group Between Green, or on recordings by such far-flung artists as Steve Coleman and Ani DeFranco. But if you haven't heard Endsley's freakishly talented quintet KneeBody, that needs to change. These geographically separated, mainly LA-based Eastman alums play in this area only about once a year. The Jazz Gallery was kind enough to host this year's show on a Sunday (April 11), when the space is normally dark. This amusing yet rigorous venture, which used to be known as the Wendel-Endsley Group, features Endsley with Ben Wendel on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on piano and Rhodes, Kaveh Rastegar on electric bass and Nate Wood (of the rock band The Calling) on drums. All members write, and what they write is impossibly intricate, often through-composed, epic and funky, emphasizing the written detail over the extended solo. Only none of KneeBody's material is ever written down. Every tune sounds impeccably rehearsed, and yet the band rarely rehearses. The solo sections, when they do crop up, are not enviable things to blow over. Dousing the listener in a flood of sonic and metric contrasts, pounding, infectious grooves and turn-on-a-dime endings, KneeBody announces itself as a jazz/rock chamber group of the oddest sort.
~ David Adler
As part of Jazz Gallery’s consistently impressive “Early Sets”, occuring conveniently at 6:30 pm several times a season, Joe Temperley (baritone sax) and saxophonist/clarinetist Walter Blanding rose out of their Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) confines on April 7th with an assemblage featuring Rick Germanson (piano), Kengo Nakamura (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums). After Nakamura’s exquisite bass solo introduction, the singing baritone of Temperley - the near 75-year old veteran from Scotland who was in celebratory mode for this rare instance of small group freedom - sparked the swinging rhythm section to join in on Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin”. Delicately (not a word customarily associated with anything baritone sax-related but such was the case), Temperley coordinated with Nakamura a mesmerizing scat-like head on the burly horn for Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism”. Germanson’s piano trio rendition of Monk’s “Ask Me Now” revealed why he’s become so in demand; his decision to go down the road of Ellington sentimentality, rather than play with Monk’s finessed rhythms, wound up being a nice choice. “A Night in Tunisia”, the closer, showcased both horns again with an absolutely invigorating and wailing blues intro by the younger reedman on tenor. Though the baritone player’s talents are at times underappreciated behind the LCJO curtain, one hopes to get more such opportunities to hear him stretch out.