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Live From New York

July 2004

By Published: July 1, 2004
In a rare New York appearance at Iridium, the folk-jazz chamber quartet Oregon played to a fairly small audience (June 6th) but seemed to have a grand time. Gone are the beards, the long hair, the mutton chops. Reedist Paul McCandless, who used to look like a Jethro Tull member, now looks more like a soccer dad. But his work on oboe, English horn and soprano sax remains stirring and unique. Bassist Glen Moore laid firm foundations, meshing beautifully with drummer/percussionist Mark Walker, who follows Trilok Gurtu and Arto Tuncboyaciyan in filling the sizable shoes of the late Collin Walcott. But guitarist Ralph Towner, the group’s main composer, was the most riveting presence. Playing nylon-string and “frame” guitars as well as piano and synths (alas, no 12-string), Towner brought depth and rigor to every number. Highlights included “Joyful Departure” (played solo by Towner on his 1997 disc Ana), a new Towner piece called “If” (in a challenging two-plus-three feel), a dark 11/8 piece called “Distant Hills” (from 2002’s Live at Yoshi’s) and a jazzier vehicle called “The Glide” (from 1983’s Crossing). There are aspects of Oregon’s sound that some find lightweight, but their grittier moments are plenty, and their onstage vibe is entirely unpretentious.

At the Jazz Standard (June 9), Joe Locke’s 4 Walls of Freedom took the stage under circumstances not unlike Oregon’s. The band rarely plays in New York; the turnout for the early set on their second night was less than huge. And like Oregon, Locke’s group has had to recuperate from the loss of a cherished member, tenor sax giant Bob Berg. The Scottish horn man Tommy Smith, with a big, husky sound and enviable multiphonic control, has risen to the occasion, both live and on the band’s new Sirocco album, Dear Life. Bassist Ed Howard knows how to enhance the subtlest details of every arrangement. LA-based drummer Gary Novak, the session and fusion whiz, gives Locke’s music a highly memorable kick in the pants. That leaves Locke himself, certainly one of the great vibraphonists but also one of the most exciting improvisers on today’s scene, period. His over-the-top mannerisms are not for show; they flow genuinely from the dynamics of the music, rendering every Locke performance richly unpredictable. His fleet, notey runs and complex chordal passages dovetail with an ease and economy that is altogether rare. Not every composition in this band’s book is a knockout, but the playing couldn’t be stronger.

~ David Adler


June 12th, opening night for Oscar Peterson’s 7-night residency at Birdland, was an emotional evening for the pianist and a sold-out crowd anxious to hear one of jazz’ living legends. Peterson brought his quartet featuring two veterans, longtime bass associate Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Alvin Queen, as well as frequent collaborator, Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius. After the opening standing ovation, the near octogenarian slowly worked his way to the piano bench, proceeded with a swinging treatment of “Falling in Love with Love” and, similar to the following set, followed the Rodgers and Hart standard with a sentimental treatment of “Night Time”. Though the latter set was more encouraging and up-tempo, a recurring introspective quality marked the first. A stroke in ‘93 has expectedly made Peterson a softer player with only slight use of his left hand for general jabs of notes and less flashy embellishments. With an obvious swing undercurrent, his spacious and delicate treatments of slower tempo numbers were hymn-like, as Bill Evans and the music of Debussy and Chopin have replaced what was customarily associated with the Tatum-esque player. Though the pianist’s right hand didn’t quite hit every note intended in his runs (the end of the second set did close with a smoking rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown”), Peterson remains a formidable player.

The Southern California-like breezy conditions with the occasional cloud and bright blue skies gave way on the evening of June 20th to the sky blue suit and playing of the one and only Ornette Coleman. Wearing a green-yellow-and red feathered fedora hat, Ornette looked and sounded as sharp as ever for the JVC Jazz Festival event at Carnegie Hall. The 74-year old followed a mesmerizing set by the as legendary and soon also to be 74, vocalist Abbey Lincoln. Last year around the same time and at the same venue was the occasion of the first-ever concert of Ornette’s new quartet with bassists Tony Falanga (whose arco lines showcased his background in the classical field) and Greg Cohen (who mixed arco lines with Falanga, though played mostly counter pizzicato runs), as well as drummer Denardo Coleman whose drums sounded as if there were socks on and in each piece of his kit other than his clear-sounding hi-hat. (Carnegie has never really been a decent-sounding hall for smaller jazz ensembles, especially for drummers) Following a set of all original material he had specifically composed for the group, their rendition of his “Lonely Woman” as the encore brought home the fact that - regardless of the acoustic drawbacks - this just might be one of the leader’s most productive music statements possibly since his great quartet of the late ‘50s.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene


The Scandinavia House backdrop of Ingrid Bergman memorabilia and the swirls of truly Nordic air conditioning created an appropriate setting for the June 10th solo saxophone performance of Håkan Kornstad, a 26-year-old Norwegian. Unaccompanied recitals are a balance between technique and ideas; too much of one without the other either becomes tedious or overwhelming. Kornstad has amazing control of his tenor saxophone, creating some marvelous harmonic overtones and rhythmic percussive accents. These techniques made his performance more than just linear. While some themes started more interestingly than they ended, Kornstad presented a very cohesive and rarely excessive program of several improvisations, based loosely from sketches on which he had been working. His bag of tricks is varied, in addition to the multiphonics and syncopations, he turned the often novelty trick of muting with the inside of one’s leg into a functional part of his playing. The real novelty came with his second instrument, the flutonette, a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece he used for a few trilling numbers. It alternately sounded like a bass clarinet, an oboe or, in conjunction with Kornstad’s rhythmic approach, a marimba. Musicians like him present an alternative to the ethereal jazz of Norway with an earthy folk music that mixes classical and improvisatory traditions deftly.

There was a lot of history on display when Wayne Shorter gazed over at Herbie Hancock before beginning their June 25th JVC Jazz Festival performance in tow with Dave Holland and Brian Blade. The standing ovation, very rock concert, was full of expectation. Supergroups of this ilk can be fraught with peril; but this is firmly Shorter’s group, his concept tying together the airy abstractions. Anyone who had seen either Hancock or Holland with their own groups understood immediately that they both subjugated their own stylistic approaches when playing with the 73-old saxophonist. Shorter has become a more textural player; those expecting the hard bop of the Jazz Messengers or even Miles Davis were challenged by much new music and inside out renditions of “Footprints” and “Empyrean Isles”. This is the kind of show where one can’t speak in terms of individual contributions (though Shorter on soprano and Holland as a “sideman” were both sublime) but instead discuss the organic nature of the pieces. Nothing really ended instead dissapating into the air. Even the perfunctory encore of “Canteloupe Island” was quickly twisted into an intellectual exercise far removed from its danceable roots. If the performance were compared to a painting, easiest is to call it an impressionist masterpiece but more accurately it was a Chinese landscape print where the treasures are in the smallest brushstrokes.

~ Andrey Henkin


A star-studded collection of jazz greats came together June 13th at the Ethical Culture Society in a Concert for John Kerry. Joshua Redman and Christian McBride opened the show with a duo “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”. Nicholas Payton, Aaron Goldberg, Rueben Rogers and Greg Hutchinson then joined Redman for a burning performance of Freddie Hubbard’s “Byrdlike”. Dee Dee Bridgewater replaced Redman for a soaring version of “How High The Moon” and then settled things down dueting with Brad Meldhau on “My Funny Valentine”. Larry Grenadier and Jeff Watts then joined Meldhau for a rollicking “It’s All Right With Me”. Dancer Savion Glover closed the first half stomping out a percussive dialogue with Watts.

Charlie Hunter’s exciting trio featuring John Ellis and Derek Phillips started the second half off with a soulful original recalling electric Miles. Redman and Michael Brecker then replaced Ellis for a two tenor “Green Chimneys” followed by a beautiful Brecker quartet reading of Jobim’s “Modinha” featuring concert-organizer Goldberg. Bridgewater returned scatting “All Blues”, followed by Glover’s melodic tapping of Clare Fischer’s “Morning” and stomping accompaniment of the singer on “Stormy Monday” before being joined on stage by the entire aggregation and vocalist Melissa Walker in a rousing grand finale that brought the crowd to its feet.

The music of Charles Mingus continues to live at Fez (Under Time Café) every Thursday night. On June 24 the Mingus Orchestra performed some of the master composer’s grand works employing unusual instrumentation for a “jazz group.” Joining Craig Handy, Seamus Blake, Kenny Rampton, Luis Bonilla, habitual horn men of the Mingus Big Band, and Orran Evans, Boris Kozlov and Donald Edwards, its regular rhythm section, Douglas Yates’ bass clarinet, Janet Grice’s bassoon, Vincent Chancey’s French horn and Jack Wilkins’ guitar added unique colors to the multifaceted music. Kozlov started the tour de force Haitian Fight Song solo, before Handy and Rampton took their turns, leading up to an exciting horn shouting climax. Wilkins gently opened the Latin-tinged Eclipse, which featured Handy’s airy flute and Grice’s bassoon.

Bonilla’s raucous plunger-muted trombone set the tone for Mr. Jelly Roll with Handy following suit with a Bechet-inspired soprano solo and Yates pushing the bass clarinet to its outer limits. Seamus Blake exposed his tenor’s tender side on the ballad Self Portrait In Three Colors that also included a stirring Evans piano solo with Kozlov walking and Edwards on brushes. Kaslov’s ambitious arrangement of East Coasting employed dissonant harmonies, giving Grice and Chancey chances to step out front. A wild Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting ended the Thursday set.

~ Russ Musto


Recommended Listening:

– Kenny Barron - Quintet Images (Sunnyside)

– Uri Caine - Live at the Village Vanguard (Winter & Winter)

– Satoko Fujii - Sketches (NATSAT)

– Jerry Gonzalez - Y Los Piratas de Flamenco (Sunnyside)

– Mulgrew Miller - Live at Yoshi’s, Vol. 1 (MAXJAZZ)

– McCoy Tyner - Illuminations (Telarc)

~ David Adler (NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com)

– Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet - Signs/Images (Okkadisk)

– Candido Camero/Graciela (Perez) - Candido & Graciela (Chesky)

– Dill Jones - Davenport Blues: Plays Bix, Jones and a Few Others (Chiaroscuro)

– Bud Powell - Bebop (Pablo/Mythic Sound-Fantasy)

– Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years: 1971-1979 (Kabell-Tzadik)

– Barry Wedgle/Barry Altschul/Kim Stone - BBK (Exit)

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene (Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York)

– Dave Burrell Full Blown Trio - Expansion (High Two)

– Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Lucidarium (Label Bleu)

– Michael Moore - Floater: Jewels and Binoculars Play the Music of Bob Dylan (Ramboy)

– Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet - Midnight Suite (Clean Feed)

– Ned Rothenberg Double Band - Parting (Moers Music)

– Chris Speed/Yeah NO - Swell Henry (Squealer Music)

~ Bruce Gallanter (Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery)



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