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