Now that Guillermo Klein lives in Barcelona, his 11-piece Los Guachos ensemble appears in New York all too infrequently. The Village Vanguard (Jun. 15th) was just the place to host this spine-tingling enterprise, the fruit of extended Smalls and Jazz Standard residencies with the city's best and brightest - including tenorists Bill McHenry and Chris Cheek, altoist Miguel Zenon, trumpeter Diego Urcola, guitarist Ben Monder and more. Klein played piano and sang, plainly but emotively, in Spanish. Bassist Fernando Huergo, percussionist Richard Nant and drummer Jeff Ballard made Klein's highly developed rhythmic ideas flow like water. Nant switched to trumpet on the mournful "El Duelo and the witheringly complex "La Ãšltima .
To open, Klein offered the dark dissonance and triple-meter drive of "No Name . They continued with the sunny modality of "Juana , the joyous, hiccupping beat of "Child's Play , the warped bitonality of "Intercambio Moral and the multi-meter tangle of "Miula . Switching to acoustic guitar, Klein segued from "El Tiempo , a downcast ballad, to "Flores , an eccentrically poppy gem. This music is absolutely one of a kind: Klein's folkloric South American influences mesh with sumptuous horn writing and a thoroughly modern jazz sensibility. The crowd simply wouldn't leave without an encore. Wisely, the band chose "Jumbo - Buen D'-a D'-a , starting off with a group chant. .
Not often does one hear a 12-piece group without bass and drums. But it happened at Galapagos (Jun. 8th), where the Pulse composers' federation performed its second installment of "The Eloquent Light: Music Inspired by Photography . Trumpeter John McNeil and guitarist Pete McCann were the guest soloists, augmenting an ensemble of strings, reeds, low brass, keyboard (Gary Versace) and vibraphone/percussion (Tom Beckham). Pulse's constituent members took to the stage one by one to conduct their own works, each with a respective photograph displayed on an overhead screen. Heedless of genre distinctions, the pieces combined the rigorous craft of 'new music' with the improvised flow of jazz and even the sonic explosiveness of rock. In order, the rundown: Darcy James Argue's "Milk , Jamie Begian's "A Simple... , Joseph C Phillips Jr's "Race , Joshua Shneider's "Sending and Receiving , John McNeil's "Riot , Yumiko Sunami's "Wise Women and JC Sanford's "An Attempt at Serenity . These were concise but well-developed statements, full of harmonic and rhythmic tension, beautifully complemented by the visual images. McNeil and McCann contributed to the richness of the ensemble passages, but they also sailed over, under and through, even playing as a duo at times.
Pulse brought "The Eloquent Light to St. Peter's Church three days later. Watch for ongoing developments at pulsecomposers.typepad.com.
~ David R. Adler
It has been said that a performance can be judged a success if there are more people in the audience than onstage. Satoko Fujii's Orchestra NY, with its 15 members, made things harder for themselves by playing at the intimate confines of The Stone (Jun. 7th) but succeeded in both logistic and artistic terms. In the 21st century, big band writing is going through a wonderful renaissance, particularly in New York, as composers are free to draw from decades of large ensemble traditions and find players able to implement their ideas. Fujii's orchestra was almost completely drawn from the ranks of NYC band leaders, each musician bringing much more to the group than some faceless, nameless big band gun. And so Fujii's arrangements allowed these often disparate voices to separate themselves from the crowd, usually giving long solo and duo segments to the likes of Ellery Eskelin, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein or Joe Fiedler. For just over an hour, on four tunes written by Fujii (and one by her husband and member of the trumpet section Natsuki Tamura), the feel oozed from '40s ballroom to James Bond-esque themes to marching fanfares to horror flick soundtracks to polka to Globe Unity Orchestra maelstroms. A good cup of tea requires excellent leaves as a base and here J. Granelli and Aaron Alexander provided that caffeinated rhythm. Oddly democratic for such a group, Fujii and her cast of luminaries weren't the stars, rather the resultant music was.
Another, very different, kind of big band also played NYC in June. One of the more commendable things the organizers of the Vision Festival do is have official days of recognition for elder statesmen musicians while they are still living. 2006's honoree was the inimitable Sam Rivers, who performed at the beginning and end of the second night (Jun. 14th) with his Floridian big band and his regular trio. Most of the players in the big band were unknown to listeners here in the Northeast but Rivers is particularly loyal to them, the band having been together for over a decade. There were a couple commendable soloists in the trumpet and saxophone sections and of course Rivers' usual rhythm section of Doug Mathews (solely on electric bass for the set) and Anthony Cole (drums) were their usual exuberant selves. But the theme of the evening was primarily that of the big band sound, most of the evening's set devoted to charmingly ragged group skronk. Rivers played relatively little, usually only at the beginning and end of the pieces and then only on soprano, in order to be heard over the din. "Monsoon was a soupy melange, a fast-paced groove. "Flair had a percolating funk intro and had the most open passages. "Melange was driven by a constantly ascending theme and was Rivers' best soprano moment. The closing "Spunk was another funky number that featured the Rivers Trio unaccompanied for portions, a delicious precursor to their set that closed the evening's festivities.
~ Andrey Henkin
Minton's Playhouse, one of the most storied locales in the history of jazz but shuttered since 1974, recently reopened in its original Harlem space on West 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. While today's innovators may not yet be holding court there like their bebop forebears did, the venue is a welcome addition to the upper Manhattan jazz scene. Tenor saxophonist Patience Higgins has a regular Wednesday night gig at the re-born club and recently played for a small crowd of locals and tourists (Jun. 14th). Higgins and his Sugar Hill Jazz Quartet - Marcus Persiani (keyboard), Andy McCloud III (bass) and Billy Kilson (drums) - took the stage in front of Minton's historic mural of a woman in a red dress (rumored to be Billie Holiday) lying on a hotel bed next to four jazz musicians mid-jam. The group gave a spirited samba feel to Barry Harris' "Nascimento , with Higgins and Persiani stretching out for lengthy solos and Kilson letting loose. Introducing Monk's "Bemsha Swing , Higgins delivered a mini history lesson on Monk's residence in San Juan Hill before it was Lincoln Center, then launched into a solo with a perfectly clean and robust tone. The quartet breathed life into the warhorse "Satin Doll by playing in alternating 6/8 and 4/4 time. Guest vocalist Ulysses Slaughter brought some Sunday church to Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone , during which Higgins displayed an adept ear for imitating Slaughter's falsetto scat phrasing note for note.
If there were an award for most intriguing title of an ongoing performance series in New York City, "Harlem in the Himalayas would definitely be a contender. The all-acoustic concerts are co-presented by the Jazz Museum in Harlem and the Rubin Museum of Art and held in its acoustically magnificent basement theater. On Jun. 9th, Gene Bertoncini performed two sets of solo nylon-string acoustic guitar. An initial crop of Strayhorn and Ellington tunes gave a glimpse of Bertoncini's command - thick, strong hands moving effortlessly and producing colors that almost couldn't have come from just six strings. He played a Chopin prelude, chastely, followed by a driving "How Insensitive , showing how Jobim based his bossa on Chopin's melody and chords. One of the night's peaks came when Bertoncini had the house play an excerpt from a chant by the otherworldly Tibetan singer Yungchen Llamo, then delivered his own improvisation built on the chant's pentatonic tune. Dropping his guitar's E string down a step to D, he hit the low pitch repeatedly like a monk's deep, monotonous drone and built toward agitated dark minor chords. If Robert Schumann had been at the Rubin for Bertoncini's sublime rendition of "Traumerei , he would've wished to be reincarnated in the age of jazz harmonies and rhythms. Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Edelweiss , evoking the Alps, slightly west of the Himalayas, was a peaceful and perfect close to the evening.
~ Brian Lonergan
Expatriate pianist Kirk Lightsey led his first engagement in NYC in over a decade at Jazz Standard (Jun. 1st), with a stellar quartet featuring Steve Nelson on vibes, Ray Drummond on bass and Billy Kilson on drums. The ever charming Lightsey began the second set by telling the audience how happy he was to be "in the warmth of New York , before delivering a solo piano prelude that segued into the group's stirring rendition of "Spring Is Here , demonstrating a kind of intuitive interaction that lends itself to electrifying extended improvisation. The song moved from a rubato introduction into a medium tempo groove, with the leader and Nelson spurring each other on throughout the tune, switching from straight ahead swinging to a rhythmic bossa nova to a bluesy conclusion. Jimmy Heath's "A New Blue began in a Monkish mood, with Nelson taking an exciting solo, followed by Lightsey playing intensely over Drummond's walking bass and Kilson's dynamic drums. Drummond introduced "Habiba with a portentous bass solo and then Lightsey surprised the audience, playing eastern tinged flute with the bassist. Nelson and Kilson joined the duo when Lightsey switched back to piano for the dramatic melody of his signature song and the quartet played climactic chorus after chorus as the audience cheered them on. The band closed with a medley of favorites - "Pinocchio , "Freedom Jazz Dance , "Chameleon and "Temptation .
In a moving tribute to their fallen colleague, pianists Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton came together to memorialize the great John Hicks at Sweet Rhythm (Jun. 3rd). Miller, with Curtis Lundy on bass and Jeff "Tain Watts on drums, started off the evening swinging hard with "You The Night And The Music , then waltzing beautifully on "Up Jumped Spring . He paused briefly to tell the packed house how he had the daunting task of following Hicks in Betty Carter's band, after which the trio played a stirring rendition of "Peace . They concluded bebopping out on "Now's The Time . Kenny Barron took over for the second set, beginning with a solo intro to "Like Someone In Love , before being joined by Lundy on bass and Nasheet Waits at the drums, both of whom soloed with distinction, matching the pianist's awesome displays of virtuosity. The three segued into an up-tempo version of "Bebop followed by an emotional "Body and Soul . The set ended appropriately with "There Will Never Be Another You . Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and Louis Hayes took the stage for the third show, kicking things off with the pianist's arrangement of "Without A Song that featured Hayes' crisp drumming. Williams shined with Walton on an inspired reading of "Little Sunflower and a Monkish interpretation of "Time After Time . Surprise guest Roy Hargrove joined the trio for "I'm A Fool To Want You and the Miles theme "Go-Go to close the perfect night.
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Listening:
· Kris Davis - The Slightest Shift (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
· Ursel Schlicht/Robert Dick - Photosphere (NEMU)
· Frank Kimbrough - Play (Palmetto)
· Bennie Maupin - Penumbra (Cryptogramophone)
· Jamie Stewardson - Jhaptal (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
· Marcus Strickland - Twi-Life (Strick Muzik)
~ David Adler, NY@Night Columnist
· Dave Burrell/Billy Martin - Consequences (Amulet)
· Roberta Gambarini - Easy To Love (Groovin' High-Kindred Rhythm)
· Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker - Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity)
· John Law's Cornucopia Ensemble - Out of the Darkness (SLAM)
· Francisco Mela - Melao (Ayva Music)
· John Tchicai - John Tchicai with Strings (Treader)
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
· Thomas Chapin Trio - Ride (Playscape)
· Vijay Iyer/Rudresh Mahanthappa - Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz)
· Ravish Momin Trio Tarana - Five Nights (Not Two)
· Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra - Aurora (Rivbea Sound)
· Sonny Simmons - I'll See You When You Get There (Jazzaway)
· Steve Swell Slammin' The Infinite - Remember Now (Not Two)
~ Bruce Gallanter, Proprietor, Downtown Music Gallery