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Live From New York

April 2006

By Published: April 9, 2006
Scraping a bow across one vibraphone bar and tickling another with two mallets, Kevin Norton elicited a free improvisation to reacquaint his Bauhaus Quartet. The group unfortunately performs infrequently, comprised as it is of intensely active musicians: John Lindberg on acoustic bass, Dave Ballou on trumpet and the omnipresent Tony Malaby on saxophones. The improv was a fitting opener for this night (Mar. 9th) of Dee Pop's Freestyle Jazz at Jimmy's Restaurant. After an exploration of textures, Norton moved to drum set and the horns erupted in a cascade of sound, the leader's kinetic flurry spurring them. For the remainder of the set, the quartet probed the flow between composition and improvisation - how one informs the other - a recurrent interest of Norton's. "Mother Tongue opened with a startling drum/bass duet that emerged as a skittering groove, the horns countering the motion with sustained notes and a stilted melody. Ballou glided over the rhythmic waves before passing to Malaby, who let fly on soprano, while Norton reined the dynamics but not the momentum. An insistent rhythm supported "Number 4 in 5 , with Norton syncopating the steady bass movement as Malaby wailed on tenor and Lindberg tapped the bass' strings and body for percussive effect. They concluded with the unhurried "Atie Aife , its spaciousness inviting a vaguely bluesy tenor to mingle with the shimmering vibes.

Eschewing the assiduous grooves he's known for with MMW, percussionist Billy Martin presented two exemplary realizations of his rhythmic theory in performance at Symphony Space (Mar. 2nd). For the first, "Stidulations , 11 percussionists with wood and bamboo blocks joined Martin onstage to play compositions inspired by cricket sounds. Martin used the timbres to imply melody, the different sounds forming counterlines of interwoven rhythms and varying in dynamics and density. Metal gongs and bells altered the tonal palette for trance-inducing minimalism on one piece. To another, a collection of glass bottles lent a bracing texture, the intersecting lines more musical than the average barfly's tapping. "Metamorphosis/Starlings , with the Black Elk Orchestra (string quartet, 3 woods and 3 brass), under the direction of Anthony Coleman and adapted by him from Martin's compositions for African mbira (thumb piano), shared many qualities of the percussion pieces. The musicians played short rhythmic phrases, with heightened melody from the instrumentation. The linear arrangements and rapid call-and-response were evocative of the music's percussive origin. Coleman blended the sounds for bold fullness or allowed the strings and woods to complement with contrasting lines. This was not typical chamber music, but idiosyncratic with an internal logic, illustrating that Martin is a deep musician with more to offer than just tasty beats.

~ Sean Fitzell


Despite a small crowd at Cornelia Street Café (Mar. 12th), clarinetist Perry Robinson's spirit was indomitable. For the evening he convened a newish group, the PJs, featuring him with tuba player Jay Rozen and drummer Jay Rosen (Robinson had played with Rozen with Burton Greene and with Rosen with Mark Whitecage). But this trio is much more than mere novelty. With a motto of "From Woody Allen to Sun Ra , almost any material is ripe for reforming in Robinson's capable hands. The set started with the band's theme, a jaunty doina that featured Robinson's cute vocals. A wondrously involved "How High The Moon was played for close to 20 minutes, highlighted by Rozen's smooth tuba multiphonics and a nifty fragmented time section that led into turn-of-last-century swing. "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say by Jelly Roll Morton was updated ragtime, a testament to the band's ability to make any song in any genre sound like it was written specifically for them. This tune was followed by an interlude of Robinson doing magic tricks (Robinson is one of jazz' last true characters) before counting off a cheekily subversive version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' . The set ended with a free piece, a nod to Robinson's '60s new music roots, the three players cackling at each other like three slightly tipsy babushkas and then shifting into a moving spiritual segment before sleekly segueing back in to the PJs theme.

Across two performances at Jazz Gallery (Feb. 22nd) and Baruch College's Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives Series (Mar. 6th), saxophonist Andy Middleton premiered his "Muir Woods Suite for octet, written thanks to a Chamber Music America New Works grant. Joining Middleton (who doubles on tenor and soprano) was his working quartet of Henry Hey (piano), John Hebert (bass) and Owen Howard (drums). Filling out the front line was Sheila Cooper on alto sax, Darcy Hepner on bass clarinet, Jim O'Connor on trumpet and flugelhorn and Alan Ferber on trombone. The components of the suite were interspersed with other originals at Jazz Gallery but had their order solidified and were presented as a whole, with brief explanations by the leader, at the Baruch performance. Middleton's writing for octet is very intimate, with the feel of a smaller band and giving a lot of room for the rhythm section to play out front, nicely contrasting the full band sections. "Reframe Me recalled moments of McCoy Tyner's Tender Moments. "Driftwood featured an attractive piano figure that propelled the long-toned melody. "Lizard Brain was a slow swinger featuring alto. "Mt. Tamalpais was the suite's highlight, a melancholy melody dispersed by the moody textures of bass clarinet and muted trumpet and trombone. The closing "Deconstruction Site was the suite's most postboppish piece, with a sound reminiscent of some of Sesame Street's perkier songs.

~ Andrey Henkin


On Mar. 6th, Merkin Hall hosted a gathering of some of New York's adventurous jazz vocalists. Calling themselves MOSS, Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Kate McGarry and Luciana Souza were backed by Ben Monder (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Ben Wittman (drums). Or, as Eldridge joked at one point, the "Fleetwood Mac of strange vocal jazz . The group offered original compositions by all the vocalists, ranging in format from duet to quintet to full ensemble. Eldridge often made the rhythm section a quartet by sitting in at the piano, as he did with a haunting 6/8 accompaniment to Kinhan's narrative "Ask Amelia , the singer leading a call-and-response with each of the other vocalists in turn. On McGarry's "Target , Bleckmann looped electronic samples of his voice under the song's lyrics, which could have been devotional to a lover or higher power: "Can the target move the arrow into the center of its heart/If miracles like these are possible, then there is hope for me to reach you. Eldridge's smoky tenor carried his "Busy Being Blue , a late-night lament evocative of "Lush Life whose harmonies swelled and turned unexpected corners. Monder's "Late Green was a thrilling electronic soundscape duet with Bleckmann's samples, traveling from idyllic to nightmarish and back, while Eldridge's "Come Home featured all five singers a cappella, morphing harmonies and resolving into shimmering chords or two-note dissonances.

Mike DiRubbo's pointed alto sax tone burned a path through Smoke (Mar. 16), backed by Harold Mabern on piano, Paul Gill on bass and Tony Reedus on drums. The quartet launched right into Coltrane's kinetic "Straight Street , DiRubbo explaining after, "We like to start off tough, get the fingers moving. That they did and after a solo of 10 or more choruses backed by Mabern's staccato, energetic comping, DiRubbo handed it off to his pianist and bassist before returning to trade fours with drummer Reedus - a format the quartet followed on several tunes. On "Days of Wine and Roses , DiRubbo employed the slightest bit of reverb in his amplification, lending his solo the illusion of a lonely horn in a large room. His long legato lines flowed effortlessly, not a note seeming out of place and yet feeling completely unrehearsed. Mabern's piano solo was soaked in the blues, with rapid, descending handfuls of notes leading to block chords and a full-on storm across the full range of the keyboard. The group followed with an especially driving rendition of Frank Foster's "Simone , with dark minor 7 chords tumbling along in 6/8 time, another two-fisted solo by Mabern and DiRubbo blowing rapid patterns up and down the length of his horn. On the ballad "You've Changed , the quartet deftly modulated rhythmically from long, slow pulses to a more jaunty pace, while the melody of DiRubbo's original rapid bop "Clarity was later reflected in the darting phrases of his solo.

~ Brian Lonergan

In one of his most ambitious projects to date, trumpeter David Weiss brought his Wayne Shorter Tribute Big Band into Iridium for a month of Wednesdays exploring the remarkable music of the great saxophonist. Pianist Xavier Davis opened the second set Mar. 22nd with dark rubato rumblings as a prelude to "Genesis before the orchestra entered swinging. Altoist Myron Walden began his solo thoughtfully, over the spacious accompaniment of Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Nasheet Waits. Davis soloed, deconstructing the melody then bringing the band back to the head, ending with a recapitulation of the introduction. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene were featured on a beautiful arrangement of "Fall with Norbert Statchel's bass clarinet lending a soft full sound to the ensemble's backing. "The Turning Gate by Weiss, featuring Greene's soprano, complemented Shorter's music with a soulfulness underscored by Satchel's baritone sax and Vince Gardner's trombone. A recent Shorter piece, "Pandora Awakened , opened with lush horns atmospherically playing the melody against a counterpoint stated by bass and bass clarinet, after which the band swung with confidence over the rhythm section's funky Latin feel. The set ended with the Jazz Messenger anthem "Mr. Jin , with exciting solos by tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, trombonist Joe Fiedler and finally the leader on trumpet.

Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz brought his quartet of Abraham Burton (saxophone), Peter Slavov (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums) into Small's for six sets of intriguing (mostly) original music that revealed an impressive approach to improvising and composing. Ortiz began the third set Mar. 10th with his composition "El Mago , introducing the piece with a flowing folkish motif and hammering rhythmic repetitions that recalled Gonzalo Rubalcaba's extensions of Keith Jarrett. Burton joined in, picking up the melodic line, initially blowing a brooding romantic tenor over the leader's subtle montuno, then increasing the dynamic intensity to a fever pitch, screaming at the top of the tenor's voice and plunging into its deepest depths, Ortiz' piano ringing powerfully in the background driven by McPherson and Slavov's pulsing rhythms.

On "Invisible , Burton coolly blew the familiar Ornette melody while Ortiz mined the composition's virtually unexplored harmonic potential in a call-and- response conversation with McPherson over Slavov's walking bass line. On his own "Green City , a lyrical line a bit like "They'll Never Be Another You , the pianist played with a boppish originality. The set's final selection "Alameda , an exciting modal original by the leader with an elusive rhythmic feel, provoked impassioned performances by the entire band, especially the shrieking Burton and Ortiz, who gave positive meaning to the term intelligent design.

~ Russ Musto

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